Guterres, Jolie pledge support for Pakistan "in time of suffering"
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, November 25 (UNHCR) - UNHCR chief António Guterres and Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie today shared their shock at the scale of earthquake destruction in northern Pakistan and pledged support for the country that has generously hosted millions of Afghan refugees for over 25 years.
"The people of Pakistan have expressed solidarity with Afghan refugees for years," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres at a press conference in Islamabad on Friday. "Solidarity is not a one-way thing - it must be two-way. The problems faced by Pakistan are our problem. We have to support them in their moments of suffering."
Goodwill Ambassador Jolie added, "Nobody watching TV at home has any idea what this really looks like. It's just unbelievable. You fly in a helicopter and you see house after house, just rubble, nothing standing."
Both Guterres and Jolie were visibly shaken by the devastation they saw in quake-hit areas yesterday. The High Commissioner travelled to Muzaffarabad, Ghari Habibullah camp and Balakot town, while the Goodwill Ambassador joined an airlift of food and blankets to Batungi village in the remote Allai valley.
"I have no words to express my feelings," said Guterres after seeing Balakot. "It's more than physical damage. It's the loss of human lives - children who were at school when the building collapsed."
"As a woman and mother, it was especially hard to imagine the children and their mothers when the earthquake hit," said Jolie. "I spoke to a boy about my son's age ... he said he was still afraid of the aftershocks. But he was so happy because his sister survived the earthquake and they didn't think she would."
The High Commissioner and Goodwill Ambassador agreed that the Pakistani authorities, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations were working very well together on the ground to help earthquake survivors, but stressed that more aid and support were needed to overcome the huge catastrophe.
The people in Batungi village told Jolie they had received some assistance, but were worried about the coming winter. "Another disaster could happen very soon, if money and aid are not on the ground by then," said Jolie. "There are so many wonderful pledges of money that could come in the next few years, but winter is in the next few weeks."
Guterres was also concerned about how the survivors would cope with winter. "There are some people in the higher altitudes who may not want to leave their homes," he said. "It's really about trying to listen to them. Our top priority now is to create conditions for people to go through winter without any tragedy, after which the Pakistani government and international community can lay down the conditions for reconstruction.
"We have to be very strongly committed to helping these people who are suffering to rebuild," he continued. "Not only the houses, the school, the roads - it's rebuilding the lives of the people that we're committed to. We'll do everything we can and get all our resources and staff dedicated to this huge task."
"It's a basic obligation to help the people of Pakistan after what they've done for refugees," said Jolie.
More than 430,000 Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan this year, said Guterres, stressing that international commitment to Afghanistan's development "is absolutely essential for voluntary repatriation to be sustainable."
He also appealed for support for the rehabilitation of refugee-hosting areas in Pakistan after the refugees have left for their homeland.
Pakistan is the second leg of the High Commissioner's visit to the region. He started his mission in Afghanistan, and is scheduled to travel to Iran on Saturday.
By Vivian Tan in Islamabad, Pakistan