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Lubbers urges open borders for fleeing Afghans

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Lubbers urges open borders for fleeing Afghans

20 September 2001

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on Thursday urged states surrounding Afghanistan to keep their borders open so desperate people fleeing the strife-torn country can be protected. He also called for an international "humanitarian coalition" to help share the burden.

Lubbers noted that there has been an ongoing exodus from Afghanistan for years as millions of Afghans fled conflict, human rights abuses, drought and hunger - or a combination of these.

"We have repeatedly appealed to and worked with the governments in the region to keep their borders open and to make it possible for refugees to benefit from protection," the High Commissioner said.

"We believe that given the current situation inside Afghanistan, there is even more reason to encourage all countries, including those bordering Afghanistan, not to close their doors. Many Afghans are not only afraid of what may happen in future, but are now - in addition to the current tensions - fearing even greater difficulties than before because international humanitarian agencies like mine had to withdraw their international staff."

He said UNHCR appeals to all parties involved to respond in a humanitarian way to the serious plight of Afghans who are directly affected by the current insecurity in Afghanistan. "In particular we ask that borders remain open to all persons having to flee, not least because of the deteriorating security situation," he said.

The High Commissioner assured neighbouring states that UNHCR and the international community will be there to assist in the humanitarian effort on behalf of refugees.

"They will not be left alone," he said of the neighbouring states. "Indeed, UNHCR is already mobilizing staff, food, and other supplies to help with present and future outflows. If there is to be a military coalition, there should also be a humanitarian coalition to really share the burden."

Lubbers said he was asking governments to provide temporary protection to those fleeing Afghanistan and pledged that UNHCR would work with all concerned to help people return home as soon as circumstances allow. At the same time, he said, there is a need to ensure safe humanitarian access to those Afghans inside Afghanistan.

As chief of a worldwide humanitarian agency responsible for helping nearly 22 million refugees and others of concern, Lubbers also made a strong appeal to leaders everywhere to prevent hostility against Afghans and other Muslim asylum-seekers and refugees. "It would be very wrong if they were to become the target of popular anger or of restrictive governmental measures," he said.