Lubbers meets Karzai, seeks solution for displaced Afghans in south
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan, August 26 (UNHCR) - UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers today travelled to Kandahar to assess the situation of displaced people in southern Afghanistan, a day after consulting Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the progress of the joint repatriation operation between UNHCR and the Afghan government.
During their meeting in Kabul on Sunday, President Karzai thanked the High Commissioner for helping Afghan refugees go home.
"We did good work. Having 1.5 million Afghans return is our greatest achievement, to which we owe you a large share," said the President, referring to the number of Afghans who have returned since March under the UNHCR/Afghan Transitional Authority voluntary repatriation initiative.
But both agreed that the success of returns would quickly turn into failure if Afghans cannot reintegrate in their homeland.
Lubbers said UNHCR is willing to work to better link return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction - what he calls the "4 Rs" - with development agencies such as the UN Development Programme and the World Bank taking responsibility for the latter stages. He added that the UN refugee agency has begun already working with the Afghan Ministries of Urban Affairs, Rural Development, and Repatriation.
President Karzai welcomed this initiative and urged the international community to intensify co-ordination efforts among the UN agencies and with the Afghan government.
In a significant gesture to resolve the problem of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in southern Afghanistan, the President on Monday sent his Minister of Repatriation, Enayatullah Nazari, to join Lubbers on his trip to Kandahar province. This was the first visit by a government minister specifically to look at problems of displaced Afghans in the south.
The group visited two of the five makeshift IDP camps in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak, where some 30,000 Afghans live in squalid, windswept encampments. They met some ethnic Pashtuns who left their farms in northern Afghanistan, saying they were there because of persecution in the north. They added that "if conditions calmed down in the north, of course we would like to go home".
Filippo Grandi, UNHCR's top official in Afghanistan, told the displaced Pashtuns the government would try to form a group to begin working on the return of people to northern Afghanistan. He added that government officials from their home region would come to Kandahar province, and that "go-and-see" visits for IDPs would be organised so that they could visit their home areas. He warned them not to expect a quick fix.
In reference to the proposed move to UNHCR's recently-opened interim camp at Zhare Dasht, west of Kandahar, Kuchi nomads encamped in the south told Lubbers that "we'd rather not be confined someplace, we would like to have livestock". The High Commissioner asked a Kuchi leader if getting livestock would be sufficient to solve their problems. The latter replied that livestock would be important, but "we really need the weather to change, insh'Allah".
Lubbers told the displaced Afghans that staying in a camp would not be a solution to their problems, adding that the UN refugee agency would work on a special step-by-step programme to help them, as agreed with President Karzai.
Leaving Spin Boldak, the High Commissioner stopped and greeted some of the more than 400 Afghans travelling on UNHCR-hired trucks to the new interim camp at Zhare Dasht after camping for months at a squalid site at Chaman, just inside neighbouring Pakistan.
Some 25,600 Afghans have been stranded at Chaman's desolate "waiting area" site since February, when the Pakistan government refused UNHCR permission to transfer any more refugees to its nearby camps.
The UN refugee agency has already transferred more than 1,700 Afghans who opted to leave Chaman to temporarily settle in the better-assisted Zhare Dasht site, where UNHCR has installed wells and other facilities until they can return to their home areas.
After visiting Zhare Dasht, Lubbers is scheduled to fly back to Kabul on Tuesday morning.