Afghanistan + 2 more

Lubbers appeals for funds for Afghans

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KABUL, Afghanistan, April 17 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers today appealed for funds for UNHCR's $271 million programme in Afghanistan, saying it would be "a shame" if the UN agency slows down its assistance programme for returning Afghan refugees.
Speaking at a news conference midway through his eight-day trip to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Lubbers also said that, in general, the security situation in Afghanistan has improved.

"In general, I would say let's talk about the 80 to 90 percent of the country where returns are possible and not bother too much about the 10 percent where stability still has to be achieved," he said.

More than 267,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan since UNHCR, Afghanistan and Pakistan launched a programme to assist refugees in Pakistan on March 1. Another 5,000 Afghans in Iran have returned under a similar programme launched last week.

Pakistan and Iran host some 3.5 million Afghan refugees who first left their country after civil war broke out two decades ago. UNHCR plans to repatriate 800,000 Afghan refugees from these two countries this year along with 400,000 internally displaced people.

"We need the money to do our job," Lubbers said, pointing out that UNHCR has so far received only $160 million of the $271 million needed through the end of the year. "At the end of April, we will have almost no reserve. We constantly have to talk to donors. It will be a shame if we have to start to minimise on our programmes and bring down the levels of implementation."

The High Commissioner recalled that last year, the United States said it would provide Afghanistan with $390 million in humanitarian aid. "That seems like a hundred years ago and all the other donor countries said the same thing," said Lubbers.

He also said that discussions among donors in the implementation group were very constructive and plans were thorough, but "maybe people think this is something for the future. For us, it is for today."

In a meeting with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, Lubbers outlined the refugee agency's repatriation and reintegration programme, emphasising returns to the countryside and discouraging movements to the cities.

On his third trip to the region in a year, Lubbers first flew into Teheran, where he met with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. He crossed the border into Afghanistan on Sunday under a heavy rain along with 1,000 returnees from Iran.

He was scheduled to travel to Jalalabad on Wednesday and will proceed to Pakistan on Thursday. There, he is expected to meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf.