Afghanistan + 4 more

UNHCR briefing notes: Afghanistan, Ethiopia/Somaliland, Djibouti/Ethiopia

News and Press Release
Originally published
Kris Janowski - Media Relations
This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

1) Afghanistan emergency

The High Commissioner today is scheduled to meet with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. Later in the day, he will also meet with the Taleban representative in Pakistan. In meetings with Pakistani officials to date the High Commissioner has repeatedly urged Afghanistan's neighbours to open their borders to fleeing Afghans, particularly vulnerable people and those fleeing forced conscription.

Meanwhile thousands of refugees are crossing into Pakistan, mostly through unofficial border crossings since only the sick, the wounded and the frail are allowed to cross officially.

On Sunday, 62 families (303 individuals) entered the Killi Faizo staging camp on the Chaman border, and on Monday a further 54 families (264 individuals), taking the total at the site at the end of yesterday to just over 1,350 -- an average of some 200 per day since the site became operational a week ago. On Tuesday 500 more people were waiting to get into the camp. However, this number does not represent the total number of people crossing into the southern Pakistan province of Baluchistan, since other new arrivals continue to cross either by the Chaman crossing or elsewhere and head straight to relatives or friends elsewhere.

Monitoring of border areas in the North-West Frontier shows that there are thousands of people are also crossing into Pakistan, using small roads and unofficial entry points. Last weekend more that 5,000 people are believed to have crossed in this way. The overall figure of Afghans who have fled to Pakistan since September 11th remains unknown but various estimates put it at more than 100,000.

2) Ethiopia/Somaliland

Several trucks in a repatriation convoy carrying more than 1,700 Somali refugees returning home from camps in eastern Ethiopia were on Sunday pulled out of mud, three days after the 25-truck convoy got stuck several kilometres away from the Ethiopia/Somalia border. The convoy carrying more than 400 families arrived in the north-west Somalia town of Hargeisa late Sunday, on the fourth day after it left Daror camp in eastern Ethiopia. The return convoy had departed the refugee camp at dawn on 25 November for a journey that had been expected to last a maximum of six hours - four hours from the camps to the Ethiopia/Somalia border and another two hours to the Somaliland town of Hargeisa. Trucks in the convoy got stuck at a place called Buro-Duray, some 25 Kms from the Ethiopia/Somalia border.

UNHCR staff escorting the convoys made urgent arrangements to provide food and water to the stranded returnees while efforts were made to dislodge the trucks from the mud. The region is experiencing heavy rains that are expected to continue till the end of November when the short rainy season ends.

Capitalising on dry spells over the weekend, UNHCR in Jijiga yesterday (Monday) sent two convoys carrying 3,183 returnees to Somaliland. The convoys arrived in Hargeisa late yesterday without any difficulties.

Nearly 44,000 Somali refugees have returned home, this year alone, from camps in eastern Ethiopia to north-west Somalia, also known as Somaliland. UNHCR hopes to arrange more convoys for the return of more than 10,000 Somali refugees remaining in Daror camp which is slated for closure before the end of the year.

3) Djibouti/Ethiopia

The repatriation from Ethiopia of some 600 Djiboutians of Afar ethnic origin begins today with a first group of over 200 people gathering at a transit centre in the north of Ethiopia, ahead of their departure for the border tomorrow morning.

Refugees from Djibouti fled to Ethiopia following the conflict between the Front for the Restoration for Unity and Democracy (FRUD) and the government of Djibouti in 1993 - 94. After a peace agreement was signed and a general amnesty declared in February 2001, UNHCR negotiated a voluntary repatriation agreement with the two countries.

Since then, UNHCR and the Ethiopian government refugee department have used radio messages to advise Djibouti refugees in the northern Afar region and Addis Ababa how and where to register if they wished to return home. Djibouti government officials travelled to Ethiopia in June this year to meet with the refugees and elders from the group of exiles visited their home areas in Djibouti in September to judge conditions for themselves.

The refugees are mainly nomads and are returning to the Dikhil and Tajourah areas of Djibouti. Those from Tadjourah, in the north of the country, will spend another two nights in temporary UNHCR transit centres before reaching their home regions. Each returnee will receive a small cash grant, basic cooking and shelter items and nine months' food rations to help their reintegration. UNHCR will operate two more convoys during the first half of November to complete the repatriation of the group.

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