Afghanistan

Press briefing by Ariane Quentier, Senior Public Information Officer and UN agencies in Afghanistan 20 Jun 2005

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TALKING POINTS

Today's Guests

Today's is World Refugee Day and our guests are the Deputy Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Mohammad Naeem Ghiaci, and the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Afghanistan (UNHCR) Jacques Mouchet.

Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups

Following the government's decision to give electoral candidates with links to illegal armed groups the opportunity to voluntarily surrender their weapons - so they can meet the eligibility criteria - verification teams from the Afghan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) continue to identify suitable locations for weapons collection throughout the country.

As indicated by the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission, collection points have been established in 25 provinces and collection has started in 5 provinces where around 1,000 weapons have already been surrendered by their owners.

ANBP has been assisting the government with verification teams identifying the provincial collection centres. After the completion of the process at the provincial level, weapons will be gathered in regional centres, as identified by the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission. These regional centres are located in Kandahar, Jalalabad, Kunduz, Mazar-e Sharif, Herat and Gardez.

The Disarmament of Illegal Group process was officially announced by Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili on June, 11th.

Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR)

To date, 60,690 officers and soldiers have disarmed and 51,873 have been demobilised under the DDR programme. Of this figure, a total of 49,991 have entered the reintegration process.

In terms of weapons collection, 34,357 medium and light weapons and 9,085 heavy weapons have been collected from military units which have gone through the DDR programme, and 14,754 have been handed over to the Ministry of Defence and the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Regarding ammunition, ANBP has surveyed a total of 481,798 boxed and 1,209,360 unboxed ammunition since the survey started in early 2005. The majority of the ammunition has been identified as unserviceable and has been taken by the implementing partners HALO Trust and RANCO for disposal. The remainder has been transported to safe and secure storage guarded by the ANA.

Tribal conflict solved in Greater Paktya thanks to UNAMA good auspices

Last Wednesday, on 15 June, a UNAMA-led initiative to solve 60 years of tribal conflict between the Balkhel tribe of Paktya and Sabari tribe of Khost came to a successful conclusion. Through UNAMA's mediation, both tribes agreed to unconditionally accept the decision of the Jirga of Greater Paktya elders appointed by the three governors of Greater Paktya two months ago.

This tribal conflict, which has resulted in 60 deaths in the last year alone, has prevented the implementation of assistance projects in the region. To solve it, UNAMA - in its political capacity - and the three governors of Greater Paktya, designed and implemented a mechanism based on the traditional system of conflict resolution of the area. After two months of joint efforts and negotiations, a final decision was made by the Jirga and publicly endorsed by all parties to the conflict. The ceremony was attended by the three governors of Greater Paktya, UNAMA and representatives of Coalition Forces.

One of the benefits of this peace settlement will be an increase of reconstruction activities in Greater Paktya. UNHCR has already announced its interest in supporting the rebuilding of the road linking both communities - closed for the last 8 years due to the conflict. It is also expected that other actors will support further reconstruction projects, in an effort to further cement reconciliation and enhance the government's credibility and outreach.

Badakhshan floods

Heavy rainfall on Thursday led to flooding in several districts of Badakhshan, as well as Faizabad.

On Saturday, 2 joint-assessment teams, made up of government representatives and international agencies, were flown by helicopters of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) to survey affected districts, and a third joint-assessment team, traveled by road to survey the Faizabad area.

They verified damage to houses and land in the districts of Baharak, Jurm, Yemgan, Shuhada, Argo, Teshkan and Darayem, and casualties and fatalities in Darayem, Faizabad, Jurm, Argo, and Teshkan.

Initial relief response however came before the assessment was concluded. As of Friday, non-food items (tents and blankets) were dispatched to Faizabad by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS). The following day, the MRRD flew into Faizabad an additional 1000 tents and 4000 blankets for further distribution.

Furthermore, a total of 88 Metric Tons (MT) of World Food Programme (WFP) assistance is being distributed to 1,450 households in flood-affected areas - enough food for 9,000 people for one month. And today the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is dispatching 1,100 family kits and other non-food items from its warehouses in Kabul and Mazar.

On the health side, the Department of Public Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have established emergency care centres in Faizabad as a contingency measure.

Click here for the WFP Press Release.

The Asia Foundation funds a mobile radio studio to inform women about elections

Because it might prove difficult for many Afghan women to gain access to information about the upcoming elections, The Asia Foundation (TAF) is funding a mobile radio studio to deliver elections information to women at the places where they live.

The roving radio shows, which will get started June 21st, are produced by Sayara Media and Communication and will include roundtable discussions, debates, profiles, interviews and talk shows about elections and the democratic process.

The radio shows will be hosted at venues including schools, beauty parlours, provincial Department of Women's Affairs offices, hospitals and health clinics, and at mobile theatre shows, remote village homes and community areas where women congregate.

Thirteen shows are planned. A fourteenth show compiled of the 13 previous shows will also be produced. The 10- to 15-minute shows will be broadcast on eight radio stations, and have the potential to reach some 3 million women 18 years and older. The Tanin Network, a distribution network to roughly 45 independent and state FM stations in the country, may also broadcast the shows.

World Refugee Day

Today, June 20th, is World Refugee Day.

Each year on this day, we honour the indomitable spirit and courage of the millions of refugees throughout the world.

In his annual message, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said;

"Most of us go about our daily lives never having to confront the terror, fear, conflict and persecution that have forced millions of refugees around the world into flight. We easily forget that most refugees are people just like us, with homes, families, jobs and dreams -- all of which they must abandon in a desperate search for safety in unfamiliar surroundings.

Faced with an uncertain future, these ordinary people must summon extraordinary courage to survive, and to rebuild their shattered lives. We see it in Afghanistan, Angola, Sierra Leone and dozens of other countries, where millions of refugees are returning to their war-shattered homelands with new hope for the future.

Over the past five decades, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has had the duty and the privilege to help more than 50 million uprooted people rebuild their shattered lives. Today, in 115 countries, including many of the world's most difficult and dangerous places, UNHCR staff are helping 17 million refugees and others of concern.

Every refugee's story is different, and every loss is a personal one. But on this World Refugee Day, all of us can draw inspiration from their shared courage and perseverance in overcoming adversity and building a better future".

Our guests, the Deputy Minister of Refugees and Repatriation and the UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, will tell us more about the situation of refugees in Afghanistan.

SRSG Jean Arnault announces new spokesperson

The Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, announced today the appointment of Adrian Edwards as his spokesperson and director of UNAMA's Office of Communication and Public Information. Adrian Edwards, who has been in Afghanistan since June 12th 2005, succeeds Manoel de Almeida e Silva, and acting spokesperson Ariane Quentier.

Adrian has been a journalist and has previously worked with the UN in the field of human rights. He will say a few words.

Adrian Edwards, spokesperson

As you've just heard my name is Adrian Edwards and I am here to begin work as the new spokesperson for UNAMA. Some of you I know already, and others I am looking forward to getting to know over the coming days and weeks.

Being newly arrived, I am still settling in but will be available in the coming days for more substantial comment and to provide you with the best information that I - and this office - can about the UN's work in helping Afghanistan rebuild. I owe especial thanks to Ariane Quentier who has been doing this job for the past months.

As you have heard my contact details are on the side table. They are also available on UNAMA's website. My phone number is among them but it's 070 282 168.

Briefing by Sultan Baheen, JEMB National Spokesperson

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) has banned all election campaign advertising on radio, television and newspapers until the official campaign period starts on August 16th.

Once the campaign period begins, the Media Commission expects to have a system in place that will allow sponsored advertising for all candidates on local radio and television stations. Details of the sponsored advertising campaign are expected to be announced as soon as details have been finalized with broadcasters and international donors.

The ban will ensure that wealthy candidates are not able to obtain an unfair advantage by dominating the mass media.

This places a responsibility on both media outlets and candidates. Both are responsible for ensuring they do not violate this rule, and for using the opportunities that the sponsored advertising system will provide. For the candidate, the sponsored advertising will provide an opportunity to spread their message. For the broadcasters, it will provide much-needed revenue.

Briefing by Deputy Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Mohammad Naeem Ghiaci

As you know, the bravery of Afghans and their resistance against invaders, their sacrifice and martyrdom is worthy of praise, on the other hand, the long imposed war in Afghanistan has also resulted that millions of Afghans to flee their homeland and live in exile in neighboring and non neighboring countries.

Being Afghan means being brave, valiant and resistant. To prove this, Afghans have paid a price such as becoming refugees and homeless in many parts of the world.

Though subsequently to the establishment of the interim administration in Afghanistan, millions of Afghans have returned, but quite a large number of Afghans live in exile, particularly in Pakistan and Iran.

I should also mention the continued problem, which shall prevent Afghans to return; the main ones are lack of shelter, job opportunities, health, education, water sanitation and insecurity in some parts of the country.

To address some of the mentioned needs/requirements ministry of refugees and repatriation has designed and proposed a number of projects to the relevant government ministries and high-ranking government officials.

Luckily some of them have been approved and already resulted in great achievements such as launching the distribution of land to landless returnees in some 9 provinces including Logar, Laghman, Maidan Wardak, Baghlan, Kunduz, Takhar, Samangan, Kapisa and Farah and we hoping that in the other 22 provinces we will launch programmes sometime in the near future.

To address the very basic needs of returnees, ministry of refugees and repatriation together with the UN Refugee Agency [UNHCR] has helped build more than 150,000 housing units for returning Afghans across the country.

In light of the 297 decree by the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the voluntary and dignified returns of Afghans from other countries, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation has signed a number of tripartite agreements with the government of Australia, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Iran and Pakistan.

Our job within the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation is to provide protection services not only for the Afghan refugees, but also to the people of our concern.

As I mentioned earlier, we have always stressed the voluntary, gradual and dignified return of Afghan refugees while meeting with the host governments of Afghans.

To ensure that Afghans make an informed decision about their return, we have always informed the Afghan refugees by providing first hand information on the situation of our real daily life in Afghanistan.

We continue to ask the host governments of Afghan refugees to be more patient and prior to deporting Afghans from their country, help these Afghans have a better life by providing shelters and other social life needs.

Luckily the government of Australia is the first and only government which has responded to the request of Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in terms of providing shelter for the Afghans who are currently living in Australia and opting to return home.

The government of Australia has recently signed the agreement to build 250 apartments - the total would be 4 million USD.

Briefing by the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Jacques Mouchet

I want to refer to the message of the Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and pay homage to the courage, and resilience of Afghan refugees during their long exile as well as during their return and reintegration process. Afghans have been on top of the list of refugees in the world, and they have often been in exile for over 20 -25 years. For the past three and half years, many have been able to return to restart a more normal life and participate in the reconstruction of their country. Since 2002 some 4 million have returned to Afghanistan. Some 3.2 million of them have been assisted by UNHCR to repatriate. So far this year 130,000 have returned from Pakistan, more will return particularly after the closure of camps in North Waziristan and Balochistan.

Only 15,000 have returned this year from Iran, but the number will increase after the end of the school year and the expiry of their documentation on 6 July 2005.

The main challenges to the reintegration of returnees are unemployment, poor urban infrastructures including social housing, and landlessness. There are still some 3 million Afghans in Pakistan and some 900,000 registered refugees in Iran. A durable solution should also include the aspect of the wider movement of population in the context of regional cooperation.

Questions and Answers

Question: Are there any figures on the casualties or fatalities as a result of the floods in Badahkshan?

Senior Public Information Officer: We have been very consistent on this. We are not the authoritative source in terms of [the number of] casualties or fatalities. We gather our information from other partners, who have been assessing the area. You may want to talk to the Ministry for Rural Reconstruction and Development (MRRD) or international agencies, which have participated in the assessment mission.