High Commissioner's mission to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran
High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers left this morning on a 10-day mission to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Arriving in Kabul on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Lubbers plans to meet with various UN and Afghan government officials, diplomats and recent returnees. It will be his fourth visit to Afghanistan since taking office in early 2001.
Mr. Lubbers said today that the international community should not forget the continuing, enormous needs in Afghanistan - - particularly with the increasing focus on Iraq. He said Afghanistan must remain a priority and that ensuring sustainable returns of refugees and the displaced would contribute to long-term stability in the region and the world.
On Thursday, he will travel north to Mazar-i-Sharif, where he plans to attend a meeting of the region's Return Commission, which is looking at ways to help displaced Afghans return to the area. There are more than 720,000 displaced Afghans in the country, both individuals who left their communities due to the long drought - - which finally appears to be easing in northern regions - as well as due to security incidents in some areas.
Friday, Mr. Lubbers plans to visit Nahrin district in Balkh Province, to see the conditions of returnees and to review shelter projects. Nahrin was hit by successive earthquakes in late 2001 and March 2002 that levelled many houses and collapsed irrigation systems. More than 5,000 houses were rebuilt last year in the area by UNHCR, USAID and ECHO. Balkh Province received the second largest number of returning refugees last year, more than 117,000 people, second only to Kabul Province, which saw the return of 650,000.
Mr. Lubbers lands in Islamabad on Sunday. With winter coming to an end, the 2003 repatriation season will be getting underway in earnest. So far this year, more than 2,700 refugees have returned from Pakistan, while more than 4,400 have returned from Iran. Overall, this year, we plan to facilitate the return of 1.2 million refugees and 300,000 displaced Afghans to their home areas.
While in Pakistan, Mr. Lubbers will visit Khot Chandna settlement for Afghan refugees in Punjab Province. He also plans to meet the President Musharraf, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, and senior members of the Cabinet as well as members of the diplomatic corps before flying to Tehran on 5 March.
During his two-day visit in Tehran, Mr. Lubbers is scheduled to meet President Khatami and several senior ministers. On Thursday, 6 March, the last full day of his mission, he plans to visit Ahwaz in south-western Iran. There he will meet provincial authorities and officials from the Iranian Red Crescent Society who are involved in assisting Iraqi refugees in Iran. Iran shelters 202,000 Iraqi refugees - more than half the total number of recognized Iraqi refugees in the world. Most of them live among the local community, but some 45,000 Iraqis reside in 22 camps spread throughout the west of the country. Last year 1,100 Iraqi refugees opted to return home from Iran.