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UNHCR suspends activities after staff member killed in eastern Afghanistan


UNHCR suspends activities after staff member killed in eastern Afghanistan

A UN refugee agency staff member was shot and killed in Ghazni province on Sunday, leading High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers to declare a suspension in activities and a review of UNHCR's work in Afghanistan.
17 November 2003
UNHCR staff member Bettina Goislard attending a meeting in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov 17 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has suspended its activities in an eastern Afghan province following the brutal murder of a staff member in Ghazni last weekend.

Bettina Goislard, a 29-year-old French national, was travelling in a clearly-marked UNHCR vehicle through the centre of Ghazni city on Sunday when gunmen pulled up on a motorcycle and opened fire with a pistol. The city's residents rushed her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

Her driver was in stable condition despite suffering a bullet wound in his arm, while another UNHCR local staff escaped unharmed.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers denounced the attack as "yet another dastardly assault on an innocent humanitarian worker."

Filippo Grandi, UNHCR's Chief of Mission for Afghanistan, said, "We are deeply shocked and greatly angered by the senseless murder of Bettina, who was an exemplary young colleague who was actively seeking ways to help people in need. Her dedication to the Afghan people was truly extraordinary. Her death is a terrible loss to her family, to us and to Afghanistan."

Goislard started her career with UNHCR as an intern in Rwanda. After finishing her studies in Paris, she returned to Kigali as a UN Volunteer working with urban refugees, focusing on vulnerable women and children. She continued her protection work with Project Surge in Guinea before being appointed to Afghanistan, arriving in Ghazni in June 2002.

Salvatore Lombardo, a colleague in Kabul, remembers, "Bettina wanted to be in Afghanistan and to be part of the recovery process. She was very fluent in the local language and was incredibly well integrated and well respected locally. She was a symbol of what UNHCR was trying to do in Afghanistan - being present in difficult circumstances, trying to intervene and speak up for the locals. She was courageous, dedicated and unrelenting."

Goislard's impact went beyond Afghanistan. Her detailed reports from Ghazni - blending local knowledge and analysis - contributed to informed decisions on the asylum claims of Afghans as far away as Australia.

Her attackers have been arrested and police are investigating the murder, which has been condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Following the shooting, High Commissioner Lubbers announced that UNHCR was suspending its activities in Ghazni province, 100 km south of the Afghan capital of Kabul. All staff members in Ghazni were confined to quarters and offices while road missions were grounded throughout the country. UNHCR officials, together with the Afghan government, are currently reviewing the agency's operations in Afghanistan.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the UN refugee agency also decided to temporarily close its voluntary repatriation centres for Afghan refugees in Peshawar and Quetta until the security situation inside Afghanistan becomes clearer. This is to ensure that Afghan returnees do not arrive at UNHCR offices inside Afghanistan that may not be open.

UNHCR has 782 staff members working in Afghanistan, 87 of whom are international staff. Since the start of its voluntary repatriation operation in March 2002, the agency has helped some 2.5 million Afghan refugees and some 500,000 internally displaced Afghans to return home. It also works with partner agencies to help returnees rebuild and reintegrate in their home areas.

Sunday's shooting was the latest in a string of attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan. Other recent casualties include a Red Cross worker murdered in March and four people working for a Danish aid group who were killed in September.