Afghanistan: Press conference by Fernando Arocena, IOM Country Representative and Aleem Siddique, UNAMA Spokesperson's Office 14 May 2007

Aleem Siddique:


Today we are joined by the Country Representative of the International Organisation for Migration, who has just recently returned from a field assessment mission to Zaranj, to specifically look at the issue of deportees from Iran, looking at the conditions there and at what needs to be done. So we are grateful to Fernando Arocena, who will be joining us this morning, and giving us an update on the situation.

May I also welcome Mr. Mohammad Nader Farhad, spokesperson for UNHCR. Before that, I will just make a few announcements from the United Nations family here in Afghanistan on some of the work we have been doing over the last week or so.

UNODC Justice support centres to target Afghan Drug Traffickers

UNODC (United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime) has today announced that it has completed the construction of a justice support centre in Jalalabad. This is part of a wider programme of justice support centres which are to be opened across Afghanistan over the coming months.

These new justice support centres will play a vital role in strengthening Afghanistan's judicial system and will eventually help to bring to book some of Afghanistan's biggest drug traffickers, aiming to end impunity and prevent the scourge of narcotics from undermining Afghanistan's progress.

These centres will be a "one-stop-shop" for Afghanistan's law enforcement officials and judiciary - providing them with a safe environment to learn, work, research and conduct criminal trials.

Justice support centres have already been opened in Paktya and Mazar-i-Sharif with further centres planned to open in Kunduz and Laghman provinces in July 2007.

WFP food distribution in the eastern region

The World Food Programme's "food-for-work programme" has distributed a total of 252 tonnes of mixed foods to over 4,000 people in Kunar, Laghman and Nangarhar provinces while nearly 35,000 students benefited from the school feeding programme in Nuristan, Kunar and Nangarhar provinces. They have received nearly 128 tonnes of cooking oil as take home rations.

Also in Nangarhar, around 823 tuberculosis patients have received around 50 tons of mixed food. Many of you will know this programme has been very successful over recent years in increasing the number of people who are successfully treated for tuberculosis; the rates have declined in Afghanistan in some part due to the success of this programme. WFP plans to provide over 520,000 tonnes of food to over 5.4 million needy Afghans through to the end of 2008 - through both emergency relief operations and regular food distribution activities.

UNICEF - safe drinking water for Nimroz

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF has begun, in conjunction with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) to repair one hundred drinking wells in four districts of Nimroz province in south-western Afghanistan, including the capital, Zaranj.

Approximately 15,000 people will have access to safe drinking water when these wells are completed over the coming weeks.

Many water points and wells in the province are no longer functional and there is a real need to repair and rehabilitate water, environment and sanitation facilities in Nimroz and provide access to clean water for local people - that's where their focus will remain over the coming months.

There will be a further one hundred water points repaired of the course of the rest of this year in Nimroz.

Daikundi night school

In a welcome initiative from the Afghan authorities in Daikundi, where UNAMA has recently opened a new office, a night school was inaugurated in Nili the provincial capital last week.

The students of the school are Government employees and school teachers who were not able to finish their high school education. A total of 316 students (266 male and 50 female) are currently studying at the school. The school covers grades nine to twelve. It is being used to develop the skills, capacity and experience of Government employees in the area to help the Afghan authorities to deliver on behalf of the Afghan people. The school operates from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm which enables students to work during the day and study in the evenings.

We welcome this innovative initiative and hope that the authorities in other areas of Afghanistan will look at it and roll it out to other areas where there is a distinct need for capacity to be built so that the Government can deliver on behalf of the Afghan people.

Fernando Arocena, country representative, International Organisation for Migration: Good morning. I am happy to be here today and to talk to you about our mission to Zaranj, Nimroz that was conducted by the United Nations and the Government of Afghanistan on 10 and 11 May.

The first objective of the mission was to assess the emergency needs of returnees from Iran, the second objective was to see what the Government of Afghanistan was doing, and number three, what were the gaps where the Government needed support. Before I start telling you specifically what we saw, I want to make an important point. The Afghan returnees from Iran are not refugees. There is a clear distinction in the migration field between a migrant and a refugee. The Afghans that returned from Iran are irregular labour migrants in Iran; they are not refugees.

I am going to tell you in very simple legal terms what an "irregular migrant" is. Every country in the world has the right to accept people into their country, every country in the world is the right to say how long you can stay in that country, and every country has the right to deport you if you break the agreements under which you entered.

For example, for me to come to Afghanistan, I had to request a visa from the Afghan Government. The visa can be granted or denied by the Afghan Government. Once they gave me the visa, I entered Afghanistan legally. My visa says that I can stay in Afghanistan for six months. If I stay six months and one day, I become irregular, and the Government of Afghanistan can say, "Fernando, we told you six months! It is now six months and one day - Salam!"

It is important to say that, in migration, the process of deportation has to be humane and orderly. Please remember that the Islamic Republic of Iran has every right to accept people to come to Iran, to stay in Iran, and they can also ask people to leave Iran. It is the same with Afghanistan, or Argentina - where I am from - they all have the same right.

The returnees arrive to a transit centre, which is provided by the Government of the province of Nimroz. This particular site, the place where they arrive belongs to an Afghan businessman who has loaned the property - for free - to the provincial Government. The transit centre has tents donated by the Afghan Red Crescent Society. The centre has a clinic, which is staffed by one doctor, two nurses, and a vaccination team. The clinic is open to the people from seven o'clock in the morning until eleven o'clock at night. The clinic, its equipment and its staff, along with an ambulance - is provided by the provincial Ministry of Health of Nimroz.

It is very important to point out that the community of Nimroz is providing food for these people. The average citizen of Nimroz, together with their neighbours and the religious leaders, organised themselves and they are proving food daily to the people in the transit centre.

What is also important to point out is that the Ministry of Rural Development provides drinking water daily to the people in the transit centre. The United Nations, as a group and the Government of Afghanistan are going to make some special recommendations to the Government of Nimroz on how they can continue to do the excellent work they have been doing at this time.

The World Food Programme will provide food for these people, the Government of the province will arrange with the community to cook the food and to deliver it to the people in the centre. UNICEF will distribute fifty family kits to the neediest people in the group. IOM is in coordination with the Ministry of Transportation to analyse the situation of the people who cannot pay the price of the tickets - the bus or truck fares - to go from the centre to their final destinations. I have to repeat this clearly: IOM is in discussions with the Ministry of Transportation to assess who needs help. We have to see, once we get the numbers and how much it costs, how we can help.

UNHCR is helping the Government of Afghanistan to register how many people are coming in and also where they are going. They are also identifying the extremely vulnerable individuals who will need assistance. If I were an Afghan, or if I were an Afghan from Nimroz, I would be very proud of my provincial Government and my country, which have responded with love and with care to fellow Afghans that today need help. Unfortunately, in my profession, I have been in many countries where migration takes place in a non-orderly way and I have seen very sad situations. This situation is well managed by the Government of Afghanistan. My congratulations go to the Governor, the deputy Governor and all the heads of the Ministries in Nimroz.

Before I open the floor to questions, let me tell you one or two recommendations to the Government and to all Afghans. The Governor of the province has to ensure that they have a place to keep open for future returnees. We congratulate the businessman of Zaranj who loaned the Government the property, but the Government should make a more permanent or stable arrangement, in case the property is not available in the future.

One other important recommendation to the Government of Afghanistan is to look carefully at these people. They are okay for forty-eight hours in the transit centre, but you have to plan for what is going to happen to these people when they arrive at their final destinations in Mazar, Herat, Bamiyan. Will they be able to reintegrate into Afghan society? My point is that the provinces of Afghanistan have to prepare now to receive these people back into their provinces. The Government of Nimroz did a very good job in the moment of the emergency. But now, these people will go back to their original provinces, and those Governors should maybe talk to the Governor of Nimroz, and get some positive, good ideas, and follow the example of the community of Nimroz, which donated food and assisted the people. Also, we have to recognise that the security forces of Afghanistan are protecting the centre, so these people are not abused by anybody, or so that the wrong people do not get into the transit centre.

In Nimroz, you have a very well-managed humanitarian situation. The United Nations as a whole is going to help to fill very minor gaps in the centres. However, we have to reflect on what will happen to these people when they go back to their provinces. I do not have to explain to you the unemployment rate in Afghanistan, I do not have to explain to you how difficult it is to get a job; I do not have to explain to you the difficulty of the housing situation in parts of the country. These are the issues that these people will face now.

We will be happy now to take your questions.


Radio Free Europe: I have two questions. One is regarding the recent crisis on the Afghan / Pakistan border. They are troops fighting and yesterday the Ministry of Defense said that they will ask the UN to try some diplomatic efforts to solve this problem. Are you doing anything on this or not? And the other question is, as you said, Iran has the right to deport these people, but the way they reacted on this issue, is that acceptable under international law or not? Do you think they have the right to beat people or to separate families from each other?

SIO: In answer to your first question on the recent clashes that have been reported between Afghan and Pakistan forces on the border, let's go back to our mandate. We are an assistance mission for the people of Afghanistan and the Government of Afghanistan. Our mandate is very clear. We are here to deliver peace, stability and progress on behalf of the Afghan people. Our mandate does not include any role in monitoring or securing the borders of Afghanistan. That is a matter for two sovereign nations - Afghanistan and Pakistan. UNAMA has been a key player in encouraging building trust and cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan and we will only see progress in Afghanistan when we will see increased cooperation between Afghanistan and all its neighbours. That is what we are focused on. I do not have any more details on these recent clashes. We are not a security organisation and issues of border integrity and security should be addressed to the appropriate security authorities within the Afghan Government.

IOM representative: In response to your second question, IOM advocates for humane and orderly migration all over the world. This is one particular case in a very large world, with a large number of migrants moving back or forth between the two countries. We strongly advocate for humane and orderly migration throughout the world.

Noorin TV: The tripartite agreement signed between Iran, Afghanistan and UNHCR says that repatriation should be gradually and dignified. Some people and parliamentarians believe that there was a violation of this agreement and even two Ministers were removed over this issue. Would you please tell us - was there a violation of the tripartite agreement? And secondly, you were there in Nimroz, did you seen any deportees with legal documents i.e. Amayesh cards or passports?

IOM representative: According to UNHCR and Government's records only two documented Afghans were found among 35,000 deportees in Nimroz. UNHCR is making a petition to the Iranian government to allow them go back to Iran.

UNHCR: The tripartite agreement covers 920,000 registered Afghan refugees. The tripartite agreement states that the return of refugees should be in a gradual and dignified manner and to consider the absorption of these refugees by the Afghan Government. So, there is no violation of the tripartite agreement since there are only two documented Afghans among the deportees.

SIO: About Ministers Spanta and Akbar. It is up to the Afghan people and the Afghan Parliament to decide who is best placed to represent your interests and the interests of your country. This is not for UNAMA to decide. We have a very good relationship with the Government of Afghanistan and we hope that whoever you decide to have as the Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Refugees, this relationship will continue.

IRIN news: Mr. Fernando, I am wondering whether you are calling on the Iranian Government to comply with what you call humane and orderly deportation? And secondly, some Afghans say that the international aid organisations in the country and the United Nations have been dormant and very reactive to the crisis when refugees were deported. The international community has not been proactive in responding to the needs of those in need? What is your response to this?

IOM representative: The Governments of Afghanistan and Iran and another one hundred and eighteen countries in the world are members of IOM. As such they joined the organisation and the constitution of IOM. Not only the Governments of Iran and Afghanistan, but all the IOM member states abide by the IOM constitution which says the deportation has to be humane and orderly. Before I answer to the second question, I must say that these are not refugees, they are undocumented migrants.

On the second question, the crisis started on April 23 and media picked it up later. We physically went there. We helped the Government with recommendations and we are prepared to help further. The worst part of this particular crisis is over. You should be proud that the Government of Afghanistan did it on its own, as a sovereign state and the state provided assistance to the people.

I am sure that other United Nations agencies and IOM are ready to help as much as we can in the coming days. The crisis is over its emergency phase at the border. Now we need to look at what is going to happen when these Afghans return to their home provinces. Are those provinces ready to help them? I hope the goodwill continues. You know that the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is very high and that there are housing problems. What is going to happen to these people? That is now the problem of other provincial governors and if they ask for help we will help.

IRNA (translated from Dari): Afghani media reported that an Afghan was thrown out of a building in Iran who later died in a hospital in Herat. Based on reports by the Iranian Council in Herat and Foreign Ministry's representative in the province, this did not occur to anyone entering Afghanistan from Iran. Mr. Fernando, would you tell us has there been any investigation into this incident?

SIO: We will follow this case up if you would like to bring the details you have to our attention and I can assure you that we will investigate this alleged incident. At this moment we do not have any specific information on this particular case.

AFP: How many migrants are now in Nimroz and how many are crossing the border everyday?

IOM representative: When the crisis began, 55,000 undocumented migrants returned to Afghanistan through different border points. At the border in Nimroz, as of 11 May, 35,000 undocumented returned. The numbers was growing everyday, however the volume of returns is now dropping. The peak of the returns has already passed. The 7 - 8 May was the peak and the numbers are now dropping steadily. Not all the returnees go to the transit centre where they are registered - remember some of these are Afghans who come from Nimroz, so they go directly to their families without being registered.

Thank you.