Afghans deported from Dubai

Briefing Notes, 26 February 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 February 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is very disappointed following the deportation from Dubai on Saturday of some 750 Afghans, reportedly all men, who were flown back to Kabul on board two Boeing 747 aircraft.

We are reviewing the circumstances of Saturday's mass deportation with the authorities concerned. We are calling for the suspension of the deportation of Afghans back to their shattered homeland.

Already this year some 1,000 Afghans have been deported from both Iran and Pakistan. Saturday's deportation from Dubai almost doubles that number.

While we understand that the men who were forced back from Dubai on Saturday were among some 2,500 Afghans who have been imprisoned for more than a year after having been found to be illegally in the Emirate, we were not allowed to interview them. Without having access to forcible returnees such as these, we cannot be sure if there may have been individuals with human rights and refugee protection concerns among the group. The same holds true of the many hundreds of Afghans who have been forcibly returned from Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks.

Reception facilities for deportees are virtually non-existent. They may arrive in places like Kabul or border zones and have no way to reach their home areas. Instead, they become displaced inside their own homeland, landing on the doorstep of already overstretched humanitarian agencies.

Afghanistan is still suffering the effects of decades of war, an unstable security situation and a myriad of humanitarian problems. The country's agricultural and livestock sectors are devastated, its economy is in ruins, and despite recent snowfall in some regions, much of the country is still suffering from the longest drought in living memory. We are also concerned about the arrival in Pakistan over recent weeks more than 50,000 Afghans citing lack of aid and harassment by rival ethnic groups.

While UNHCR opposes forcible returns to Afghanistan at this time, we are ready to help those who decide to go back of their own free will. On Friday, UNHCR will open the first of its repatriation registration centres in Tartabek, near Peshawar, Pakistan. Across the border in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, UNHCR will open a cash distribution point for those heading back.

Afghan refugees who wish to return home may stop at the registration centre in Tartabek and other centres soon to open elsewhere in Pakistan, where they may complete registration formalities if they would like to receive UNHCR's assistance package once they cross into Afghanistan.

An estimated 150,000 Afghans have spontaneously gone back to Afghanistan since the beginning of this year.