Afghanistan + 3 more

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva Spokesman for the SRSG for Afghanistan 14 May 2002

News and Press Release
Originally published
Update on the Loya Jirga Process

As of yesterday, 156 district shuras took place throughout the country. In those assemblies, 7,164 people have been selected, of which 61 are women. These people will all go to the second phase at the regional level, where in an electoral college they will elect the delegates to the Loya Jirga to take place here in Kabul in June. There are 13 districts that have already done this second phase, therefore we already have 33 people that have already been finally selected and elected to go as delegates to the Loya Jirga.

Today there will be district shuras in two districts in Kabul province, Mirbachakot and Farza. One of the district shuras which is of interest is taking place in Logar province on 16 May, in Dashte Obchahar district. This is the first shura with the nomads. As it is not too far from Kabul, those of you interested in going there can travel in cars, organised with the Loya Jirga Commission on Thursday morning.

Most of the Commissioners have been in the field observing and facilitating the selection process. All of them are coming back to Kabul between today and tomorrow, as they are holding a meeting of the Commission tomorrow, here in Kabul. Then they return to the provinces and come back for another meeting on 19-20 May. During those meetings there will be a review of the process so far and, in particular, the question of seat allocation for districts and the question regarding the seats that are selected and not elected, some 300 of them. They also have to decide on the rules and procedures of the Loya Jirga itself.

SRSG Lakhdar Brahimi's Press Conference

The Special Representative to the Secretary-General, Lakhdar Brahimi will be holding a press conference today at 3 p.m. on the Loya Jirga process so far and how he sees it. There will be interpretation in English and Dari.

Second Civil Society Conference

There will be a Second Afghan Civil Society Conference from 15-18 May here in Kabul organised by the Afghan Civil Society Forum Swiss Peace. The gathering brings together about 200 Afghan participants from the provinces and the diaspora, providing a platform for the exchange of ideas and concerns prior to the Loya Jirga.

National Human Rights Workshop on Human Rights of Women

A national human rights workshop on developing a national programme on human rights of women and a related programme of activities for the next two years will be held this Wednesday, 15 May, at UNAMA.

The all-day workshop is expected to have 50 - 60 participants, including men and women, from all parts of Afghanistan. The morning segment of the workshop is open to the press who will be able to speak to some of the women participating in the workshop.

This workshop is preceded by a training workshop, "Training on the Role of Lawyers and Professional Women in Promoting and Protecting Human Rights".

Workshop on Malnutrition

The Afghan Interim Administration with the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Orgranisation (FAO) and in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are holding a two-day workshop on "Alleviating Malnutrition in Afghanitsan: the Role of Food and Agriculture" in the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.

Forty-five participants from the Ministries of Agriculture and animal Husbandry, Reconstruction and Rural Development, Irrigation and Water Resources, Health, Education and Women's Affairs, together with UN agencies, various NGOs and the Faculty of Agriculture are discussing the causes of malnutrition of vulnerable population groups in Afghanistan, the possible solutions and the role of the food and agriculture sector.

Specific attention is being given to the poor urban populations, drought-affected areas, returning refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), and nomads who have lost their cattle. The recommendations of the workshop will contribute to the formulation of food and agriculture policies and intervention in the coming months, and identify the needs for technical assistance.

Landslides in Samangan Province

Following a number of landslides affecting five villages in Khulm district of Samangan province, UNICEF has dispatched a truck containing 160 cooking sets, 160 kits containing basic hygiene supplies and supplies of soap to the affected area, in a partnership with GOAL. Some 600 families have been displaced as a result of the landslides, which followed heavy rains in the area.

Training for Measles Vaccination and for Teachers

UNICEF informs that in Kanadahar, a three day training programme for measles vaccination has been undertaken with 168 people. 150 of these have already started work on measles vaccination amongst children in Kandahar city; the whole city should be covered in the next two weeks.

Also in the south, UNICEF has trained 71 teachers as part of the orientation process for using new school materials. These master teachers have gone on to train 1,324 teachers in two provinces and this will continue in three additional provinces shortly.

WHO Update on Tuberculosis

WHO announced a substantial fund from the Canadian Government to increase the coverage of DOTs (direct observed short course treatment) in Afghanistan National Tuberculosis control programme.

Afghanistan is one of the countries which has a high number of TB cases. Of all the currently notified cases in Afghanistan, between 60-70 percent are female. The reason for this is due to the confinement of women in their living environment, poor nutrition and lack of adequate medical care for women.

This disease mainly affects people between 15 and 50 years old, young adults in their productive and reproductive age. TB has a direct link with poverty, poor nutrition and poor living standards.

President of the World Bank to Visit Kabul - Dale Lautenbach

Mr. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank is to visit Kabul for one day tomorrow, Wednesday 15 May 2002. There will be a joint press conference with Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Executive Director of the Afghan Assistance Coordination Agency (AACA), at their office in the Prime Ministry, tomorrow at 2.00p.m.

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Update

There is a press release which has details of IOM's funding situation and the Return of Qualified Afghans Programme (RQA).

UNHCR Update on Returnees - Yusuf Hassan

The number of facilitated returns since the Afghan Interim Afghanistan-UNHCR operation began on 1 March is now 566,000. The returns from Pakistan hit the 500,000 mark this weekend. Some 39,000 have entered Afghanistan from Iran and nearly 9,000 from Tajikistan.

The returns from Pakistan have now exceeded our planning figure for the whole of 2002 by 100,000.

In addition, UNHCR and IOM have assisted the return of more than 160,000 IDPs.

From last Saturday, we are providing extra cash to long-distance returnees. Returnees going beyond Kabul to the northern region will now receive $ 50 per family to cover their travel expenses. This is in addition to the $100 per family grant given to all assisted returnees from Pakistan.

UNHCR today starts the repatriation of the thousands of IDPs in the southern border town of Spin Boldak. Since September, more than 40,000 IDPs have been leaving in squalid conditions in five camps in and around Spin Boldak. They consist of people forced to flee their homes by a combination of factors; factional fighting, US air strikes, the break down of law and order and the continuing drought in the southern region.

The first group of returnees out of Spin Boldak will be assisted to return to their areas of origin. They will receive a cash allowance to cover their travel costs, a UNHCR aid package and 150 kilograms of wheat.

UNHCR will also provide repatriation assistance to the many Afghans who have been stuck at the Chaman border post in Pakistan since January. Denied entry into Pakistan, the number of Afghans in Chaman has considerably increased. An estimated 40,000 are now believed to be there. With poor shelter and inadequate sanitary facilities, the health conditions in this no man's land, where the Afghans are camping out have rapidly deteriorated.

WFP Update - Alejandro Chicheri

Joint WFP-FAO Crop Assessment

Last summer harvest left Afghanistan with a cereal deficit of about 2.2 million tons. A new crop assessment is being planned to take place before July 2002 when the new harvest will be ready, to provide an overview of the socio-economic setting and food and agriculture situation in Afghanistan. The survey will also summarize the food production forecast for 2001/02, and the cereal supply / demand and food aid requirements for 2002/03.

This report will provide to policy-makers and analysts with the most up-to-date information available on all aspects of food supply and demand, so that timely interventions to prevent food crisis can be planned in advance.

More details in the press release.

Resource Update and Pipeline Matters

As you know, on 1 April, WFP started a nine-month emergency operation focus to gradually shift from relief to recovery with particular emphasis on education, health and the agricultural sector after the harvest. A total of 544,000 tons of food are required for this 9 month. About 50% of these needs will have to be met by the end of June.

Questions and Answers

Q: How many of the 566,000 returnees are remaining in Kabul and what is the impact of this?

UNHCR: The number of people coming into Kabul has been written about quite a bit but there is some error in the reporting. A considerable number of the people returning to Kabul are Kabul residents; people who were displaced from the city and province of Kabul during the Taliban period in particular, those people are returning back. Having said that, out of the 566,000 who have come back, only 38 percent of them have come to Kabul and Kabul province. This is not Kabul city alone, it is the greater Kabul area. About another 40 percent returned to the Eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Laghman and areas like that, and the rest continued to the northern provinces. The other factor that I think I should emphasise in terms of returns is that a lot of people who are returning are people who are from urban areas in Pakistan and Iran; coming from Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar. We have not seen a large return of the rural Afghans who are hosted in the refugee camps in Pakistan, those people have not started returning back. There are many reasons why people would like to come back to Kabul, it is one of the safest cities in the country, it offers job opportunities, but I think it is inaccurate to say that people form other areas are returning to Kabul in large numbers. There is no evidence to support that.

Q: Why is it that mostly urban people are returning and is there a pattern of ethnicity of these returns?

UNHCR: Yes, indeed. The majority of people who are returning from Pakistan and Iran are Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara. The reason why this is the case is that these were the urban poor, they worked in the cities in Pakistan and Iran and they feel more confident than other people that these areas are safe to return back to. The fact that the political reasons which actually led to their flight is no longer there. We are not seeing a large number of Pashtuns particularly from the Southern and Eastern regions coming back because they are the bulk of the refugees in Pakistan. In the Eastern province, Nangarhar which is a safe area to return back to, has seen a very large number of returns and they are mainly Pashtuns. The figure now is 50-50 but that is not a true reflection of the refugee population because the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras are minority refugees. Their number is insignificant but they have returned in very large numbers.

Q: [Inaudible] Question on returnees going back to the north via Spin Boldak.

UNHCR: I did not say that. In fact I said that the people who fled form the North because of human rights violations, persecution would not be able to return home at this particular moment. The people we are helping to return out of Spin Boldak are those who can go back home, who coming maybe to Kabul, Ghazni, the Northern areas and so on. We have not had people say they want to return back to the North; those people are mainly in Chaman and not in Spin Boldak. The five camps that are in Spin Boldak are mainly people who fled after September 11, and some of them will be able to go back and those are the people we are assisting from today onwards.

Q: [Inaudible] Question on the UN reaction to the statement issued on 10 May by NGOs asking the UN to stop undermining Afghanistan by raising salaries.

Spokesman: This is a very complex issue. The question of the difference in salary scales in international organisations and local institutions in poor countries is not a new issue, it not only Afghanistan unfortunately. We have seen this before, and this kind of issue cannot be solved by just debating salary scale discrepancies or creating artificial salary control mechanisms. We really believe that the solutions lie in immediate government capacity-building and in longer-term development.

In the case of Afghanistan, our response is really addressing the larger context. We believe that it is essential to develop a strategy where Afghans develop the skills and are offered training to manage their affairs. This is particularly true regarding the reform of the Civil Service and building an increasing government capacity. We are currently addressing that along with the Afghan Interim Administration by establishing and creating 'implementation cells' in the different Ministries, as well as the secondment of staff. Additional ideas include what we call 'reverse secondment' allowing for the training of government personnel working within UN agencies.

[Inaudible] but they do reflect an attempt to address it in its roots longer-term. For the short-term, the NGOS along with the UN and donors are finalising a draft of a 'Code of Conduct'. This Code of Conduct highlights the basic rights of individuals to choose where they want to work as well as their right of association. It may also suggest guiding salary brackets for all organisations working in relief, recovery and reconstruction and development. Employers will also be encouraged to monitor the ethnic composition of their staffing tables to ensure it represents all ethnic groups that are in Afghanistan. It is also the idea of establishing a Watchdog Committee which will comprise of representatives of the UN, the Afghan Interim Administration, as well as local and international NGOs.

Q: How long will it take for all the refugees to return and how many are there?

UNHCR: Well it would be almost impossible to put a date to the period all Afghans would be able to return back home because that is predicated on a number of factors, but in terms of our planning, we do not believe in fact that all Afghans will be able to return back within the next three to four years, it is a process. We have nearly five million Afghans out of their country. This is the world's single largest refugee population. It is also one of the oldest staying refugees, it is only in terms of record, beaten by the Palestinian record which I think is the longest in the world. The majority of them are in the neighbouring countries of Iran and Pakistan but they are also scattered in 70 countries around the world [inaudible].

Q: [Inaudible]

UNHCR: There are two figures for Iran and Pakistan. Our working figure for refugees in Pakistan is 2.1 million and Iran is 1.8 million, but both governments dispute our figures. Pakistan say they have 3.2 million and Iran say they have 2.3 million.

Q: [Inaudible] Question on assistance provided for returnees coming back to Afghanistan.

UNHCR: Yes indeed we do have. UNHCR itself has a big reintegration programme which is jointly carried out with the Interim Administration, the UN and other developmental agencies, but in our particular case we have budgeted to assist up to half a million people to rebuild their houses. We have a budget of US$40 million for shelter. We are also going to assist the returnees with safe drinking water, clinics and schools in some areas where they have larger returns. This is a collaborative effort and UNHCR is just one player. There is a government that is recognised by the international community, there are bigger UN agencies such as the UN Development Agency (UNDP) which is given responsibility in the process of reconstruction as far as the UN is concerned. We have the World Bank involved so there are a lot of players in the process and our particular responsibility would be to provide quick assistance to people with housing and shelter, agricultural assistance with seeds and implements to just get these people started but I think their sustained return will be dependent on this process and having more development projects.

Q: [Inaudible]

UNHCR: Yes, because we have had 566,000 since the 1 March, but Afghans have been returning home long before that and we have had 160,000 IDPs that have been assisted by UNHCR and IOM. We also believe up to 400,000 IDPs have returned back to their homes [inaudible] so that is nearly a million. This is a huge movement by any standards.

Q: Is there any assistance being given to those refugees in Australia?

UNHCR: We would assist as many Afghans to return back home, but the return is a voluntary action. You have to express the desire to come back. I know some people have already returned from some parts of the world. I have met people from Australia, Canada. Among our staff members, we have people from Canada and the United States who did not wait for UNCHR to assist them.

Q: Will those countries allow them to stay?

UNHCR: That is a question that you will have to ask those countries.

Spokesman: The Return of Qualified Afghans Programme is another way of looking at the issue of salaries and capacity-building within the country. They are very much necessary and we hope they find the conditions good enough for them to return.