Press Conference by Ruud Lubbers
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
I am here in Kabul for this part of my visit to three countries, namely Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) because this is of course about refugees. But refugees are now becoming returnees, so it is also very much about returnees.
You know we are already doing this Programme for a number of years now. We have seen over three million people coming home which is very substantial. It was amazing particularly at the beginning of the last repatriation process to see so many people who had the courage to go home because it meant they had confidence in the country and in the government — President [Hamid] Karzai and his team.
I do hope that after some slowing down and following the beginning of this year we will again see substantial repatriation. You simply don’t know how big it will be because it is a voluntary exercise. But it is not completely managed by UNHCR — some people go spontaneously and come back. To give you an indication, we think it is possible this year to see some substantial numbers again, even up to one million from host countries such as Iran and Pakistan.
Andre will also see a number of returns of internally displaced people (IDP). They are also entrusted to UNHCR in this country and there are still between 150,000 and 200,000 of them. I am confident that this year again we will halve that, to a maximum 100,000 also tube included in this number of one million returnees. So that was about numbers and about our plan for this year.
My next remark is that the first requirement for repatriation is confidence in the security in this country; the situation on the ground; the human rights dimension; the absence of violence; and the possibility for people to go home in safety and dignity. And there we think more has to be done.
Wise that the Government has done a lot of work in building up and training the army as well as the police forces and that there Isa very good structural plan in place. But we think that in this phase of building of Afghanistan one needs the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and what I call an extended ISAF, not only in Kabul but also with the capacity to support the security in the country as a whole. This is very much done with the new instrument of provincial reconstructions teams (PRT also called stabilization teams, but we do need the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)/ISAF and NATO has already made commitments to do this now.
On the issue of ISAF with more teams deployed over the country, progressively available to provide the security – I spoke about that here, with different interlocutors and I will also speak frankly about this outside of the country — this is a key for Afghanistan.
The two other dimensions we spoke with the President Karzai and Minister of Finance, Ashraf Ghana about were related to land issues which is very relevant for the return process. There is very often disputed land. One is working on that but it has to be done better. It has to be done more. We touched also on the possibilities that the land owned by the government in this country could be translated into a positive instrument for repatriation, particularly for groups which are in need – for instance teachers who have come back to rebuild this country with other returnees.
I said it earlier here in Kabul that this is not only about repatriation but it is also about reintegration, reconstruction and rehabilitation.
Wed see it is moving with the government toward the development. When you look into the budget you see plans for internally displaced persons, you see many problems. It is happening now and will continue that.
Finally something about the dimension of Afghans in neighboring countries. And I will relate this to the governments. There is phenomenon in the economy of transmittances of Afghan laborers in other countries. I think as UNHCR that this is healthy. It needs flexible arrangements between countries. And it is important to start to work to think about that also in relation to Iran and Pakistan.
So although this year we hope to have another million people coming back from those two countries in addition to over three million already returned from there so far, we cannot say that all Afghanis Iran and Pakistan are refugees.
Ascertain point we’ll have to develop systems of cooperation between these countries that will reflect their mutual interest, in a situation in which these countries will work more closely together, socially, economically, including the dimension of temporary migrant workers. Seasonal workers like the Koch’s are also a traditional phenomenon in this part of the world. Today, it is also about other professions; sometimes even about successful businessmen at two sides of the border. So we will start this process.
Solet I stop here. I had a very good visit, even though this time it was mainly here in Kabul, although we did go out to Somali Plaint visit some of the successful projects there. It is good to be here and see people on my way to Islamabad.
Question: I understand that you were supposed to go to Miamian and Kandahar, but you didn’t. Is it your perception that the security situation is worse down there and how concerned are you that there has been fighting in Miamian and the IDPs won’t go back there?
High Commissioner (HC): Well, there is my personal situation and then there is the situation for those who intend or are considering the possibility of going home. Of these, I think there are two dimensions- the security and the perception of the security. I think both are the real security issues. The real security incidents, which mentioned earlier, need to be addressed — hence the necessity to expand NATO/ISAF presence in this country. There is also a perception dimension that I spoke about in relation to my journey; I was advised not go and I have learnt in my profession to take my people seriously, otherwise I would de-motivate them in their work. There wasn’t an urgent need for me to go so I didn’t.
Question: You didn’t go to Miamian — Was that due to insecurity?
HC: It wasn’t only the insecurity, but they also opportunities is-à-vis your interlocutors as there is some sort of transition of governance there. Kandahar on the other hand is a bit of a different situation. From a structural prospective it is very clear. We would have liked to see the governor because he was a Minister here and we have very good contacts. But indeed there were some incidents that occurred exactly on the days [of the proposed visit] and I was again advised to postpone my trip. So I will have to do it next time.