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Afghanistan: Repatriation programme suspended

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: Repatriation programme suspended

17 November 2003

In the wake of the killing of a staff member in Afghanistan, we are suspending our programme to help Afghan refugees in Pakistan return home to Afghanistan. Voluntary repatriation centres in Pakistan have shut down following Sunday's murder of Bettina Goislard, a 29-year-old French national, in the central city of Ghazni. We have closed our office in Ghazni. We are also temporarily closing down our offices in Afghanistan's south and south-eastern cities of Kandahar, Gardez and Jalalabad. Repatriation operations in these areas require staff presence on the ground. Road travel has been suspended in the meantime. Staff in these areas have been restricted to their offices or quarters.

All of these measures are being taken while we review the security situation on the ground. We hope that the suspension of our activities will not cause too much difficulty for Afghans who continue to return to Afghanistan despite the onset of winter. So far we have helped in the return of some 2.5 million Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran, and another 500,000 internally displaced people. It has come about with a heavy price. We are saddened and angered by the loss of our colleague. We hope in this review of our operations to strike a balance between our duty to staff security and our commitment to stand by the Afghan people in their efforts to bring peace and to rebuild their country.

The body of Goislard has been taken to Kabul, where funeral arrangements are being made. Bettina will be buried in Afghanistan in accordance with her wish. She was killed in an attack in broad daylight in Ghazni city by two men riding on a motorcycle. They opened fire at her UNHCR vehicle. Her Afghan driver was wounded but another national staff member was unhurt. Ms. Goislard, who had worked in Rwanda and Guinea, joined our Afghan operation in June 2000 and had been responsible for helping some 50,000 Afghan refugees return to their homes in the Ghazni area.