Afghanistan + 2 more

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva Spokesman for the SRSG for Afghanistan 16 May 2002

News and Press Release
Originally published
Kabul School Survey

A snap survey of half of Kabul's primary schools has indicated that the return to school following the start of the new term in March has exceeded all expectations. Kabul has 200 primary schools of which the survey covered 100.

Based on the rapid survey, there has been an increase in primary age enrolment of 34%. The total number of primary students in the surveyed schools was 202,000. In Grade One alone, there wan an increase in enrolment of 68%.

There are positive trends in girls enrolment. The same survey showed that the number of girls attending classes in the 100 schools was 100,000 - 42% more than anticipated.

UNICEF is quick to stress that this was a rapid and small survey. A nationwide assessment of schools is now underway, and broader results should be available by the end of May. However, the agency feels that this initial snapshot is encouraging, and is a credit to those in the Interim Administration and education departments who worked so hard on the Back to School campaign.

Given the apparent increase in enrolment, beyond expectations, UNICEF is now accelerating its support to the Administration in procuring and distributing more school supplies to meet the additional needs.

Update on the Loya Jirga Process

As of yesterday 181 district shuras have been conducted and in those assemblies 8,201 Afghans (of which 63 women) were selected to go on to the second phase where they, as an electoral college they will elect by secret ballot the candidates who will participate in the Loya Jirga in June in Kabul.

Announced that the Loya Jirgi Commission was to meet yesterday, and indeed the commissioners came to Kabul and reviewed the issue of seat distribution. They are due to meet again in the coming days. They went back to the provinces and will return to Kabul again to finalise the discussions held yesterday but also the rules and procedures of the actual Loya Jirga.

I am sure that you have heard about the heavy rains in the north of the country and that has also affected the Loya Jirga process. The district assembly scheduled in Rushtaq, Takhar Provice could not be held. The flooding of the Kocha River prevented the international observer as well as the people from reaching the site. Additionally the shura scheduled in Andarab Baghlan Province was postponed for the same reasons. Both were held yesterday.

Humanitarian effects of flooding in the northeast

Regarding the affect of the floods on the population, we have information that 120 families have dispersed from Pengani, Rustaq district in Takhar province to adjacent districts of Yangi Qala and Dasti Qala following a landslide.

The remaining 280 families are receiving non-food items of tents, clothes, blankets from the NGOs in the area. There is also food distribution.

A large amount of land has been destroyed, approximately 562 hectares, where wheat has been cultivated. 2,000 head of cattle were lost.

Further flooding in Bilkashan village, inhabited by 325 families, has destroyed about 40 houses and rendered another 30 inhabitable. Aid is being co-ordinated with NGOs and UN agencies on the ground. The upcoming FAO and WFP food crop assessment which I told you about a few days ago will show the extent of the damage to agricultural lands.

There are also reports of rain affected areas between Faizabad and Baharak in Argu district. ACTED and FOCUS have assessed the extent of the damage and assistance is being coordinated, including the distribution of food for two weeks.

In spite of this destruction and suffering which also included the death of some people, 3 women, 12 children and 15 men, these rains have also been positive. According to FAO, last April was the month with the highest precipitation in the last three decades.

Development and reconstruction in Shomali Plain and Takhar Province

The United nations Office for Project Services, with funding from the UN Development Programme, have begun work in the Shomali Plain and in Takhar Province.

Shomali Plains

In Shomali, 12 Quick Impact Projects are currently on going. They include the rehabilitation of Zanabad Canal and Ferozabad Canal in Deshab District as well as the construction and rehabilitation of a school for 624 girls with 38 teachers and a school for 1,400 boys with 74 teachers in Mirbachakot.

Takhar Province

In October 1999 Kuojaghar became the frontline between the Taliban and Northern Alliance. All public infrastructures were destroyed including schools. Last Tuesday, 46 teachers watched as school supplies and tents were being distributed to a total of 2,050 girls and 600 boys in the students of the high School for Boys in Khojaghor, Qrildi School for Boys and Qrildi Schools for Girls in Kuojabahawiddim Town.

UNHCR Update on Returnees - Yusuf Hassan

We are witnessing a nation on the move, mass movement of Afghans coming home after years of exile life in the neighbouring countries or internally displaced people returning to their villages.

Last week, we had the first returns from India, two Afghans; one of them the first Afghan Sikh to come home arrived from Delhi on an Ariana flight.

Nearly 590,000 Afghans have repatriated home since the Interim Government and UNHCR began an assisted programme on 1 March. This is the fastest and the largest returns to Afghanistan which is more than 4 million people as refugees in the neighbouring countries in about 70 countries scattered around the world.

The Interim Administration and UNHCR had planned to assist 400,000 returnees from Pakistan during the course of 2002. We have now surpassed that figure by 130,000 in the first nine weeks of the operation. In addition since January, 160,000 internally displaced people have gone home.

The numbers of the returnees are 530,000 from Pakistan, 30,000 have returned from Iran, nearly 10,000 from Tajikistan and others from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and India.

Afghans are returning to virtually all the 32 provinces of the country. About 59% of the returnees have gone to the central region, 41% to Kabul city and 29% to Jalalabad city.


More than 40 % of the returnees are heading to areas devastated by war. Most of them will find their homes all together destroyed or damaged. UNHCR has begun a shelter programme to assist them re-start their lives.

We will spend some $40 million to help as many as 500,000 of the most neediest returnees re-build or repair their homes.

UNHCR has signed an agreement with three NGOs, ACTED, Alisei and ZOA to begin distributing beams, doors, windows, doorframes, window frames and hammers and nails to build the first 7,400 houses. The three NGOs are now in the processing of selecting the beneficiaries. A standard house will consist of two bedrooms and one latrine.

Another area UNHCR will be intervening to support returnees is water and sanitation. The UN refugee agency has allocated $6 million to provide safe drinking water in areas with large number of returnees. Under this programme, UNHCR will help dig 3,000 shallow wells, drill 1,250 tube wells and construct 3,000 baths and latrines as well as provide hygiene training.

UNHCR has already give $ 1.5 million to the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR), an international NGO with long and broad experience of Afghanistan.

Questions and Answers

Q: [Inaudible] Question on....

UNHCR: You know that this is already a city under pressure. It has a population of nearly 2 million. The infrastructure has more or less collapsed particularly in the area of sanitation and sewerage, water supply, health, it puts an enormous pressure on the city. I like to emphasise the fact that many of these people are returnees, they are coming back to their cities and some of them have also contributed to rebuilding and rejuvenating the city. Many of the businesses that are opening up, a lot of the traffic that you see on the road, they have also brought back resources, capital, skills and so on. And so maybe they are also part of the solution for the redevelopment of the city as well.

Q: [Inaudible] Question on girls education and whether any special provisions have been made to assist them to catch up.

Spokesman: I believe so. For you to get a precise answer I would suggest that you talk to the Ministry of Education as well as UNICEF. I do believe that, yes indeed, we need special programmes which were discussions, if not already implemented for those who need to catch up, in particular the girls. But you know, there is a lot of catching up to be done in this country. Certainly, women and girls have been perhaps the most dramatic victims of these years of fighting and violation of human rights. Yesterday we had here a workshop with women from around the country to review and discuss programmes for women within the human rights framework. These kinds of things are being addressed. None of these problems will be resolved from one day to another. You have, as I said, a lot of catching up to do. But yes women and children are paramount concerns of all those who are working [in support of the] government.

Q: [Inaudible] Question on whether the numbers of returnees is being controlled and if so if the numbers could be reduced.

UNHCR: No, UNHCR is not promoting the return of Afghan refugees. The people whom we are assisting at the moment are people who have volunteered to return back. It is not an organized return. We facilitate and provide them with some basic assistance so that they can cope with some of the difficulties they are going to face here. We are not encouraging countries around the world to review the process of assisted Afghans to return back. Firstly, because we think that the security situation in the country does not allow for large returns in certain parts of the country. A lot of people are coming back to Kabul for one simple reason - it is the safest place to be in this country. There is an international security force in place and that confidence is encouraging people to come back to the capital. We would like to say to countries that Afghanistan is of international concern. And countries in the world can help the Interim Administration and the process here by not putting pressure on Afghanistan at this particular moment. They should wait until such a time when promotion of returns can be a viable option to organizations like ours and people can really return to participate in the process of reconstruction. And I think countries like Australia can help Afghanistan by sharing that burden at this particular moment rather than pressuring people to return back.

Q: [Inaudible]

UNHCR: No, we can't control return. The return is a right. People are returning back to their country. There are difficulties, they understand. They know it is tough. They have made a choice given reliable information. Some of them have come to visit and have a look around before they have brought their families. It is not a decision that these people are rushing into. Let me emphasis that this package of assistance has been in place for many years. We had it last year, we had it the year before. In fact, the average ..... were provided assistance of 350 kg of wheat to every family. This year we have decreased it to 150 kg. There were not many takers last year I can tell year. This package was there. People are returning back not because we are providing them with assistance. They have already made this decision based on the information that they have. What we are doing, we are providing them with a basic assistance, we are lending them a hand so that they can cope with the difficulties they will face once they are here. I don't think that the assistance we are giving plays a major part in the decision to return back home.

Q: [Inaudible] Follow-up comment that complaints have been heard that life in the camps is better than here in Kabul.

UNHCR: I am surprised to hear that. I have been in this region for three years. I have been the spokesman for UNHCR in Pakistan and I have covered Afghanistan for the last three years. I can tell you that the conditions of the Afghans in the neighbouring countries are not that nice. Conditions have deteriorated in those countries. They are no longer welcome. They live a marginalised existence. They are a marginalized under class. Many of the rich Afghans have been poor. People who have really not had much of an existence in the neighbouring countries. Of course, there are a large number of people who are educated and skilled and are returning back. But I can tell you for sure that Pakistan and Iran are not the land of milk and honey to Afghan refugees.

Q: [inaudible] Question on whether the UN will be involved in the Loya Jirga.

Spokesman: Yes, I think we will be, but only in a supporting role as we have been supporting the Loya Jirga Commission. Right now all the arrangements are being completed regarding logistics, regarding security, regarding housing, regarding feeding people. Delegates alone will be 1,500. It is a huge undertaking to have all these people for one week at a site that has been partially destroyed. Everything is being renovated, there will be a huge tent, other tents are being put up as well for smaller group meetings, facilities for the media as well. This reminds me - those of you who have already some indication from your head offices back home what kinds of numbers there will be from your media here to cover the Loya Jirga, please let us know. It is not yet the accreditation process. We will have to accredit all of you for the Loya Jirga but that is not happening yet. We would just like to have an indication of the numbers you envision will be representing your media. Our role is the one of supporting with facilities. Of course, all the content, all the substantive decisions will all belong to the delegates of the Loya Jirga.

Q: [inaudible] Question on whether we have monitors at all the elections.

Spokesman: I believe so, we are supposed to have monitors in as many places as possible and I believe yes, in fact we have.

Q: [inaudible]

Spokesman: I don't have the specifics right now for you, but as you heard Mr. Brahimi talk about yesterday at his press conference, the process is by and large moving well. There have been some indications of problems of intimidation here. We have some [inaudible] and fighting there. Different views of local authorities but that is expected isn't it? I don't think anyone expected this process to be like as if it were in Switzerland. In many countries you have political arguments and I think that is very healthy to have political arguments when you have an election. It is possible that after 23 years of conflict the act of discussing has been left a bit on the side and that could be build up to violence.

We have had so far the process of 181 districts shunas. But the procedures established by the Commission are being applied. They foresee, that whenever in a given district there are no conditions, or the conditions are such that the process can not run according to the procedures, that shura is then suspended. It should then happen at another time when the conditions are in place. Or, if the conditions are not in place at that location, the process or the shura itself can be transferred elsewhere. And finally, if not even that is possible, the Commission appoints the delegates from that particular region so all this has been foreseen by the commission and is being applied.

Q: [inaudible] Question on delays in the process.

Spokesman: The design of the schedule was incorporating possible delays and indeed we have had a few delays, we are somewhat delayed in certain areas but we are still within the period that was allowed for possible delays. As of now, the plan is still to go on as planned with the Loya Jirga starting 10 June in Kabul.

Q: [inaudible] Question on the number of women who have been selected.

Spokesman: As of yesterday, 181 districts in which 8,201 people were selected of which 63 were women. I repeat, these are people who are still to go to the second phase when they are elected. And as you know in the commission procedures 160 seats were reserved for women independently of how many women are elected.

Q: [inaudible] Question to clarify the number of districts that have had elections and how many are still remaining.

Spokesman: The total number of districts is around 180, so we have about 200 or so to go. We hope to have about 15 a day. That is the idea for us to still make it and now that we have aircraft support, even though the weather has not helped on a couple of days in a couple of locations, we hope that with helicopters and planes this process will expedited.

Q: [inaudible] Question on whether any women have already made it to the second phase.

Spokesman: I don't have that information. Probably not, because there would be a lot of fireworks if that had happened. I will have to check that for you.

Thank you very much and have a nice afternoon.