Afghanistan + 2 more

UN press briefing in Kabul 18 Dec 2001

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of todayÆs briefing in Kabul by U.N. Spokesperson Khaled Mansour (excluding questions and answers session).
**Yusuf Hassan, UN Spokesperson

The end of Ramadan this weekend saw several days of heavy rain, the first in many months, fall across most of drought-stricken Afghanistan. Snow now blankets the mountain ridges around Kabul, where the security situation is improving. The security situation is also gradually improving in Herat and Mazar. For the first timke in many years, residents of Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar and Herat marked the Eid holidays with music concerts.

From Iran, more than 33,000 Afghans have spontaneously returned home since the western Afghanistan city of Herat fell to anti-Taliban forces on 12 November. This includes more than 7,000 people who went home last week. Spontaneous returns last week reached a new record, with more than 17,500 Afghans returning home from Pakistan and Iran. Over the last few days, returns have been quite slow, perhaps due to the Eid celebrations. To better monitor the spontaneous returns, yesterday UNHCR staff visited the refugee agency's office in Islam Qala, on Afghan-Iranian border to install telecommunication equipment. UNHCR staff are expected to return to Islam Qala this week.

Today, UNHCR staff travelled from Kabul up to the Panjshir Valley to check on some 12,000 Afghans who fled the Shomali Plains, north of the capital. De-mining specialists have identified at least 12 villages in the Shomali Plains that appear to be clear of mines, and UNHCR expects to begin assisting some of these Afghans home beginning next week. Some 200,000 Afghans fled Shomali during the two decades of war, and 17 UN and NGO partners are planning to return them as their areas of origin are declared safe. UNHCR will assistance to some 45,000 people return to the Shomali plains.

Beginning Wednesday, UNHCR will distribute its winter assistance kits to more than 1,400 Afghans who fled Kabul Province's Shakara Dara District in recent months and who are now displaced in the capital. Next week, the UN refugee agency will expand the distribution of its winter kits to more than 6,000 Afghans who fled Paghman District. The winter kits contain charcoal, blankets, quilts, sweaters, two stoves for cooking and heating, kitchen utensils and other items to help needy Afghans cope with the winter.

The number of refugees crossing from southern Afghanistan into Pakistan has decreased. On Sunday, less than 100 refugees entered Pakistan through the Chaman border. It is assumed that the low traffic was mainly due to the Eid celebrations, which began on Sunday in Afghanistan and a day later in Pakistan. The number of spontaneous returns from Pakistan to Afghanistan, which exceeded 2,000 a day via Chaman late last week, has also decreased.

UNHCR, together with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has begun planning for a large-scale re-registration of internally displaced people in western Afghanistan near Herat. The aim is to provide proper assistance to those in need in Maslakh and Shadaye camps, to avoid over-crowding by re-directing new arrivals to new sites, as well as to gain better understanding of the dynamics of displacement in the area, including refugees who have returned spontaneously, but who are still displaced inside Afghanistan.

The provincial authorities have given permission to open a new camp at Mir Daud, 25 kms west of Herat, to re-direct new arrivals from Badghis and Ghor areas. It is estimated that the registration exercise, planned for January, will require 1,000 personnel from various aid agencies. UNHCR will provide technical advice and train the core registration staff. The current estimate of IDPs in the sprawling 4.5 km-long Maslakh camp 20 kms west of Herat is 200,000. Another 27,000 people are encamped at the Shadaye camp, 18 kms east of the city. These figures are to be verified with the planned re-registration. IOM is the coordinating agency for assisting the internally displaced in western Afghanistan.