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Lubbers: Insecurity threatening Afghan return programmes

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Lubbers: Insecurity threatening Afghan return programmes

17 April 2003

17 April 2003

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on Thursday expressed serious concern over the deteriorating security situation in parts of Afghanistan, saying it was hampering efforts to support returning refugees and internally displaced people.

"UNHCR and its partners have worked hard to help more than 2 million people return home over the past year, but the sustainability of those and future returns is now being jeopardised by insecurity in parts of Afghanistan," Lubbers said. "It is absolutely crucial that Afghan authorities and the international community take measures to strengthen security in the country, particularly in rural areas."

Lubbers reminded donor governments, particularly in Europe, that consolidating stability in Afghanistan also has a direct bearing on the number of Afghans seeking asylum outside the region. In 2002, for example, the number of Afghans seeking asylum in Europe dropped by more than 50 percent.

"This positive trend could easily be reversed if the more than 3 million Afghans still in Iran and Pakistan once again lose hope in being able to go home," Lubbers said. "It is in everyone's interest that security be promoted and strengthened in Afghanistan."

UNHCR urged that concrete action be taken to improve the security situation in southern Afghanistan. It warned that lack of security could trigger a vicious cycle of reduced humanitarian access, less development aid, fewer returns and further instability - all in an area that is already suffering the effects of half a decade of drought.

Following the recent murder of Ricardo Mungia, a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, more than 10 international non-governmental organisations pulled staff out of Kandahar, at least on a temporary basis. UNHCR's Spin Boldak field unit has been closed since the start of the war in Iraq on March 20. Operations at the Chaman border with Pakistan have also been restricted or stopped.

Large areas of south-eastern Afghanistan - including the whole of Uruzgan and Zabul provinces - remain off-limits to aid agency staff because of the dangers. Other areas can only be accessed using armed escorts. Security concerns in eastern Afghanistan have delayed the establishment of a new iris recognition centre in Khost to screen returnees for repeated assistance claims. In Nangarhar, UN activities have been on hold since January. The freeze was imposed following the killing of two guards who were escorting a UNHCR team.

UN activities have also been curtailed in the north-west, following a new outbreak of inter-factional fighting near Maimana, west of Mazar-i-Sharif.

There are an estimated 350,000 internally displaced persons in southern Afghanistan, most of them in six settlements in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. People are still arriving in these settlements after fleeing harassment and insecurity in the north - from Faryab, Jawzjan and Badghis provinces.