Questions related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian issues

Statement of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN
On Agenda Item 41: Questions related to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian issues
Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of the government of Afghanistan, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for his comprehensive Report and briefing this morning. I would also like to thank the High Commissioner for his commitment and dedication to the plight of world refugees and, in particular, the refugees, returnees, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Afghanistan.

Mr. Chairman,

Afghanistan still holds the unfortunate record of being the leading country of origin of refugees worldwide, and eighty percent of these refugees have been in exile from Afghanistan for more than twenty years. Fortunately, this trend is beginning to change. These lost citizens of Afghanistan have at last begun to find their way back to their country. Since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, more than 5 million Afghans have returned to Afghanistan, with over one-quarter of a million returned just in the past year.

I would like to express our gratitude particularly to the peoples and governments of the brotherly countries of the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan for hosting and assisting the over 2.7 million Afghan refugees that have come to settle in their countries. We also extend our gratitude to all other host countries, as well as the UNHCR and other relevant international organizations for their continued support. Without their assistance, our efforts to encourage repatriation would be severely limited. At the same time, Afghan refugees seeking refugee status or asylum in other countries, particularly the developed world, deserve our attention as well. Refugees, whether they achieve official status or not, often face a hopeless and uncertain future, occasionally losing their lives in the pursuit of safety. They deserve our efforts to ensure they do not fall through the cracks, and are treated with dignity and respect, in line with international law and humanitarian norms.

Mr. Chairman,

Facilitating the return of more than three million refugees and other wandering Afghans is a top priority for the Government of Afghanistan. However, despite the success of Afghanistan’s voluntary repatriation program – the largest of UNHCR for the last seven years – as well as the desires of the country, Afghanistan does not presently have the necessary resources to provide for the needs of these returnees. Repatriation alone does not equal success.

Repatriation has also been affected by the twin threats of terrorism and insecurity – as proven by the number of IDPs that continues to rise in provinces with the highest levels of insecurity, particularly along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In addition, humanitarian organizations still have limited access to the most insecure parts of Afghanistan. Also, widespread poverty and a challenging humanitarian situation have been further exacerbated by a rise in food prices and by continued attacks on international and non-governmental aid organizations providing assistance to Afghans.

Mr. Chairman,

The Afghan government is committed to continue its work to implement our strategy on refugees, returnees, and IDPs as outlined in our National Development Strategy (ANDS). The primary purpose of these policies and programs is to increase our absorption capacity in order to manage and assist sustainable reintegration. To further facilitate reintegration, we are working to improve the capacity of relevant Ministries to deal with repatriation, to reform in particular the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, to foster greater inter-Ministerial cooperation, and to mobilize additional resources with support from our international partners.
Successful reintegration requires that conditions exist to establish an adequate quality of life for returning refugees. In this regard, in November 2008 we hosted an international conference on the return and reintegration of refugees in Kabul where we discussed the need for greater efforts to guarantee basic necessities for returnees. Without sustained financial assistance by the international community, Afghanistan will find it difficult to implement our strategy for refugees.
We continue to work closely with the governments of Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran along with UNHCR to achieve our shared objectives. In July of this year, representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the UNHCR met in Kabul for a 17th trilateral meeting, where all parties reaffirmed their commitment to the voluntary, gradual, safe, and dignified repatriation of all Afghan refugees and agreed to strengthen and expand the ANDS in the context of reintegration. Furthermore, Pakistan has made a commitment to extend its program that provides Afghan refugees in Pakistan with P.O.R. cards until 2012, for which we are grateful.

Finally Mr. Chairman,

The government of Afghanistan would like to emphasize that it fully supports the UNHCR’s noble mandate of promoting humanity and of finding a comprehensive solution to the protracted situation of refugees throughout the world. Yet, in order to make progress in achieving these goals, there are many obstacles we need to overcome. The challenges facing Afghan refugees, returnees, and IDPs are the outcome of three decades of conflict. Accordingly, we recognize that our efforts require resources and the sustained commitment of our international partners. Nevertheless, we are confident that our joint efforts with the international community will effectively bring about the return of Afghan refugees.

Thank you for your time Mr. Chairman.

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