As-Salâmu 'Alaykum. Good morning, and we=92re very pleased to see you at our regular UNAMA press briefing. My name is Adrian Edwards, I=92m the Spokesperson for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Before we start I would just like to introduce you to two new colleagues we have working with us at the Office of Communication and Public Information here in UNAMA: Nilab Mobarez, whom some of you will already know, and Helena Mulkerns who has just joined us from the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. As usual, we will start with updates from around the UN family here, and then come to you for any questions you may have.
Assistance to IDPs
UN agencies have been working with the local authorities to provide food and non-food items to some 900 families displaced by recent fighting in the Zer-i-koh area of Shindand district in Herat province. WFP has sent mixed food, while Unicef, UNHCR and the Afghan Red Crescent Society have between them provided tends, lanterns, sheets, blankets, soup and other help.
The UN is also concerned by the humanitarian situation of some of those who are being returned to Afghanistan from Iran as illegal immigrants. Since April 21st some 44,000 people have been deported from Iran via crossings in Nimroz and Herat. At the moment the International Organization for Migration, UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR and UNAMA are doing what they can to ensure the well-being of those who are coming across the border, and so far the situation is manageable. We have also had an assessment team on the ground in Farah yesterday and today. However, we look forward to seeing the governments of Afghanistan and Iran working together to resolve this, and as soon as possible. It=92s very important in any return of large numbers of people that it is orderly, gradual, and humane. We are pleased to hear that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is also monitoring the situation.
Separately, 250 families who were affected by recent floods in Kushki-Kunah district of Herat province have received non-food assistance. Distribution of aid for another 100 families is underway in Kushk-i-Rabt Sangi district of the same province.
900 tons of WFP food assistance to Ghor province, held up due to road closure by heavy snows, is now being transported to the province.
In April WFP provided 30,000 tons of food to more than 2 million vulnerable Afghans, including those displaced by fighting in the south and those affected by widespread drought and localised floods in food insecure areas of the country.
A WFP press release with details is on the side table.
UNHCR surveys refugees in Pakistan
During the recent registration of Afghans in Pakistan 2.15 million Afghans were registered over the course of 15-weeks. A 200-page report from UNHCR notes that the registration reflects a very young Afghan population in Pakistan, with the majority originating from Nangarhar, Kabul and Kunduz provinces. Although many expressed concerns about returning home, citing the lack of security, 62,200 families said they wished to repatriate. More than 6,000 registered Afghans have repatriated since 19 April.
Update on poppy eradication
Ongoing verification of Governor-led poppy eradication by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has confirmed eradication so far in 16,737 hectares across 24 provinces. Afghan Eradication forces say they have eradicated across a further 7.5 thousand hectares, although this has not been verified by UNODC.
Overall, eradication activities appear to be more intense this year than in 2006. We have also seen opposition to eradication in some instances, with 16 deaths and several injuries reported.
IOM brings Afghan expatriate expertise
The International Organization for Migration announced yesterday that the first three Afghan experts forming part of the =93Professional Afghan Expatriate Programme =96 EU=94 have arrived in Kabul from Europe. The objective of the scheme, which tries to bring in expertise that Afghan ministries and other public institutions need, but which cannot be sourced locally, is to contribute to the long-term stability and development of the country. The scheme hopes to eventually deploy 150 Afghan expatriate professionals from nine EU countries within Afghanistan.
Food for work projects
Under its food-for-work program WFP has approved two road rehabilitation projects in Mandogal area between Kamdish and Bargimatal districts of Nuristan province. 549 tons of wheat has been allocated to fund the projects.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Dutch Press: Has UNAMA gone into the issue of civilian casualties in Shindand? Why are you silent about this subject?
Spokesperson: One of the purposes of a mission we dispatched to Shindand last week was to look at possible civilian casualties. As you know the incident blew up over the weekend prior to this. There were concerns, as the mission went down there, about possible disproportionate use of force. Over the past week, I=92ve been briefing those members of the press who have been in contact about the situation: We have something in the region of 50 credible reports of deaths in the area, with collapsed buildings, possible bodies under houses etc., and it takes time to bring this verification work to completion. But that=92s where we are at the moment.
Kabul Times: There are different reports coming in about actions the Iranian Government is taking against Afghan refugees. What is behind these acts, and how do you ask the Iranian Government to stop this, and allow the Afghan refugees to leave Iran voluntarily?
Spokesperson: In any given year, from one to two hundred thousand people are deported from Iran into Afghanistan as illegal immigrants. Normally, those people returned tend to be single males who went to Iran as migrant workers. This year, what we are seeing are complete families being returned. In most cases, the people that have been returned and that we=92ve been able to monitor, have not been holding Amayesh 2 refugee cards. Where such cases are found, as [UNHCR spokesperson] Farhad will tell you, UNHCR takes it up with the Iranian authorities. Our primary concern is a humanitarian one. When you send a large number of people across a border like this, you have to be concerned for their well-being, and that=92s where our main concern lies at the moment. But the responsibility for resolving this problem primarily lies with the governments of the two countries. That=92s why, as I said earlier, we would like to see action as soon as possible between these two governments to resolve this problem.
Aunohita Mojumdar, Freelance Journalist: I have two questions, one a clarification with regard to the situation in Shindand, have you arrived at the determination about the disproportionate use of force as yet? Secondly, on the refugees question, you are saying that it is the responsibility of the two countries primarily, but the UN has been involved all along in this process, and has talked about the success of tri-partite efforts between the UN and the two countries, so why is the responsibility being rolled back onto the governments?
Spokesperson: On the first question, our recently renewed mandate tasks us among other things with monitoring the situation of civilians in armed conflict, and that=92s what we have been doing in this instance. This verification work is not complete at the moment, and we are presently looking at whether to send a second mission down there. More broadly, yes, we do this verification work, but we don=92t publicise our findings in every instance, and that=92s because in some cases we find we can be more effective through non-public forms of diplomacy.
On the incident itself, we have at this stage reports of 50 or so deaths. We do support and encourage efforts by the Government and the international military to find the truth about what happened and to find ways to deal with such matters to prevent recurrence. And just to make it quite clear on this point, our own verification is still ongoing, it=92s not complete at this stage.
On your second point, I think it=92s very important to distinguish between the programmes that go on in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries on the return of refugees and other arrangements to do with illegal immigrants. I think we have to acknowledge that all countries deal with those people who enter their countries illegally according to their own laws. However, this case is very different from dealing with refugee populations. I think that=92s a crucial distinction to make here. That is why we are asking that the two governments take this matter up at an early opportunity with a view to preventing this from becoming a larger humanitarian problem.
UNHCR: Just regarding the tri-partite agreement, it covers only the registered Afghans who are living in Iran. We are talking about 920,000 Afghans who are living presently in Iran, and they have a Amayesh 2, or are registered Afghans. A substantial, but unknown number of Afghans are living in Iran without such cards. This deportation is mainly of the un-registered Afghans.
(RFE/RL): We have heard from some sources that Mr. Tom Koenigs intends to submit a report to the Security Council =96 could you tell us about the subject of that report?
Spokesperson: You are correct, the SRSG does report to the Security Council on a regular basis. He is expecting to travel to New York in the next weeks, and there is a possibility he may be asked to brief the Security Council. If so, we will make sure that you have access to whatever is available in the public domain.
(VOA): During past years, many Afghans have emigrated to other countries, at different times, some to Iran, and legally or illegally they are living there. What is the reason behind this current mass compulsory deportation of Afghans? They migrated to Iran for economic reasons. If they are deported on a massive scale from Iran, it will create problems; the process should be delayed. Could the UN take some measures to delay this compulsory deportation?
UNHCR: The migration of Afghans to and from Afghanistan, even before December 1979, there was movement of people from Afghanistan to Pakistan. If I=92m not mistaken, half a million Afghans got visas last year, and they went to Iran, and after the expiration of their visas they still stayed in Iran. So the issue is more a humanitarian issue and an economic issue rather than one of =93refugees=94. Based on our mandate, the registered Afghans are the ones of concern to UNHCR. The unregistered Afghans are those that the Iranian Government sometimes says amount to one million Afghans living illegally in Iran. The deportation started on 21st April, and mainly the deportation has taken place from Zaranj, Milak to Farah, Nimroz, but even in the previous years, there were deportations of Afghans via Islam Qala to Afghanistan. But it is important to know who these people are and there should be a clear distinction between refugees and economic migrants. Once again, I repeat, that the people who are registered are the people who are of concern to UNHCR. But of course, we are concerned about the modalities of sending any Afghans back, as we have already mentioned. There is a need for true findings of how these people have been deported, and then we will know more about it, whether there have been some registered Afghans amongst them or not.
IRNA: You mentioned that the number of registered refugees is 920,000 while the official registered number of refugees is 974,000. One year ago the Iranian Government announced to the UN and Afghanistan that Afghans living legally in Iran will have no problem but all illegal Afghans should leave Iran by 21 April using the facilities the UN and the Iranian Government provide for them otherwise they will be deported. Have the Afghan Government and the UN fulfilled their responsibilities in this regard? I think there is shortcoming on the part of UN and the Afghan Government.
UNHCR: The difference between your figures and mine may be because the repatriation is underway and that is why we have different figures. You also mentioned that the Iranian Government announced that unregistered Afghans should voluntarily return to their country. What the UN agencies and particularly the UNHCR and the Afghan Government do is see that our programmes are designed to help the most vulnerable returnees. The registered returnees receive cash assistance upon arrival to the country and we have projects the help them reintegrate them to their communities. On the issue of illegal or forced return, I once again tell you that those are not the people of concern to UNHCR despite that we have some programmes for the extremely vulnerable individuals to help them. Once they are identified we provide them with cash assistance. It is important to know that the local communities and elders in Farah and Nimroz province have been generously providing returnees with water and shelter.
AINA TV: I have two questions. Does UNAMA agree with the deportation of Afghan refugees from Iran and does UNAMA plan any meeting to stop this? What is your view on the incident in which a man wearing ANA uniform killed two coalition solders?
Spokesperson: On the first question. I have just made it clear that the United Nations has a duty of concern to the people sent across this border, some in difficult circumstances. UNICEF, WFP, IOM, UNHCR and UNAMA are all working together to try and address the immediate humanitarian needs. The bigger political and law issues need to be dealt with at the Government level.
On your question about the incident at Pul-i-Charkhi; I have not seen a detailed explanation of what occurred and what may have been behind it, whether it was a renegade soldier or something else. As always we condemn any murder, and we have to bear in mind these were people who were here doing their job and trying to assist this country.
Killid: My question is about deported refugees from Iran. The modalities of these deportations are extremely inhumane. A compatriot has even died. You did express your concerns, but if you could explain which kind of concerns do you have?
Spokesperson: I think you have pin pointed the same concerns we have. The concern we have is first and foremost about the humanitarian situation and the modalities of the returns. It is very important that this be done in a gradual and humane manner. From reports we have, it appears that some people have been separated from members of their families. There are cases where people may not have sufficient water or transportation to get home. These are the issues we are trying to help with at the moment.
TOLO TV: My question is about the civilian causalities. The numbers have been released to the media but this is not important. What is important is that it happened once at Shindand and twice at Nangarhar. UNAMA and the government of Afghanistan both did express their concerns but after verifications you both have done what is your action on this?
Spokesperson: Thank you for that question. Every single death is a tragedy. UNAMA has stressed time and again that everything possible must be done to avoid civilians being put at risk. We support and encourage efforts by the government, by its international partners, and by others to find the truth about what happened in such cases so that if mistakes have been made then corrective measures can be put in place and future incidents prevented. International humanitarian law has to be respected when it comes to protecting civilians in conflicts. And this isn=92t a principle that applies to one side in a conflict only. We have repeatedly made this point clear. It is unconscionable, for example, that over the past 12 months and in just one area alone of this country =96 the southeast =96 some 246 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded by suicide attacks. So again we urge all sides to do their utmost to prevent these kinds of thinks happening and to ensure that measures are taken to avoid recurrences.
BBC: Yesterday a commission of the Meshrano Jirga [Upper House of the National Assembly] has discussed a 14-article proposal in which the focus is made on reconciliation with the Taliban and with anti Government fighters. The proposal says negotiations should start in order to bring the opposition to the Government. This follows the previous bill granting impunity for warlords. I would like to know the stand of UNAMA on this, and if it is ratified will you support this? Will this solve the problems of Afghanistan and stop the fighting?
Spokesperson: There are two things that guide us when it comes to discussions of any negotiations with anti government elements of any kind. One is resolution 1267 of the UN Security Council =96 as you may recall it is a resolution passed in 1999 concerning Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The second point: We believe Afghanistan needs peace. We support initiatives that might bring peace to Afghanistan. What=92s important is that such initiatives have to be on the basis of respect for the Afghan Constitution. I want to add one final point, which is that I believe our position on the question of amnesties is clear: We don=92t support amnesties for people who have committed war crimes. We believe firmly that it is for the victims and no one else to decide whether to forgive.
Question: The Meshrano Jirga has said that negotiations with the Afghan Taliban should start. Now the United Nations adds the condition of accepting the Constitution to it. What is your position on the Meshrano Jirga=92s decision?
Spokesperson: I am afraid I don=92t have a position to inform you about, as I have not yet seen this document passed by the Upper House.