Afghanistan + 5 more

UNHCR briefing notes: Afghanistan, Kenya

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

MEDIA DIARY: A press conference on the Refugee Education Trust is scheduled for Tuesday, 20 November at 1.30 pm in the Palais des Nations, Room III, with former High Commissioner Sadako Ogata and South African First Lady Mrs. Zanele Mbeki, an RET Council Member. Dr Jan van Erps, Executive Director of the RET, will also attend.

1) Afghanistan emergency

Although borders remain officially closed in the countries surrounding Afghanistan, some progress is being made in our efforts to help those who have managed to make it to Pakistan. We hope to start re-locating recently arrived Afghan refugees in Pakistan into newly established sites as early as this weekend. A total of 11 new sites are ready in Pakistan and can be opened for use. The first group to be re-located is expected to be the nearly 3,000 vulnerable Afghans who have been allowed to cross into Pakistan at the Chaman border crossing in southern Baluchistan province. These people, primarily women, children, the elderly and sick and wounded people, have been staying in the Killi Faizo temporary staging post adjacent to the border at Chaman. The residents of Killi Faizo are being informed of the planned transfer to the new Roghani refugee site about 20 kms away. UNHCR and the government of Pakistan's refugee agency - the Commissioner for Afghan Refugees (CAR) -- will escort the convoys, which could begin as early as Sunday. This should free up room in Killi Faizo for other vulnerable Afghans seeking protection and assistance.

In addition to the vulnerable group at Killi Faizo, there are two other populations we're concerned about - tens of thousands of people at the makeshift Jalozai site near Peshawar, and the estimated 135,000 Afghans who have managed to cross "illegally" into Pakistan since Sept. 11, and who have been keeping a low profile because of fears they will be deported.

We hope to begin the transfer of the Afghans around Peshawar, including those in the Jalozai site, during the coming week. Refugees from Jalozai will be moved to the new Kotkai refugee camp in Bajaur agency. Up to 500 people could be moved daily. UNHCR will provide transport while the government of Pakistan is expected to provide security for the five-hour journey from Peshawar to Kotkai.

Kotkai has a capacity for up to 20,000 people and lies at the foot of the Durand Line Mountain in a semi-desert area. Administration, refugee registration, health and warehouse areas will be ready tomorrow. The camp is divided into four sectors that will each have a community center, a school and a playground for the children. A mosque and a market have also been planned on the site.

Each refugee family will be responsible for pitching its own tent, if possible. Formal registration will take place in the camp the day after arrival. The plan is to transfer 500 Afghans daily from Jalozai and another collection point in Peshawar.

In Iran, meanwhile, UNHCR is readying relief supplies which are to be part of a humanitarian aid convoy scheduled for early next week for the northwest Afghanistan town of Herat. UNHCR plans to send 2,000 pieces of plastic sheeting and 10,000 blankets to help cover the needs of some of the more than 200,000 internally displaced people living in camps in Herat. The convoy is being organised jointly with the Iranian Red Crescent Society along with other UN agencies. UNHCR staff in Mashad, in northeast Iran, will be loading the supplies onto trucks from our stockpiles there. Next week's convoy will be the second humanitarian convoy to Herat from Mashad. It will also be the first time that UNHCR has sent in supplies from Iran since the United Nations withdrawal of international staff from Afghanistan. Plans are for UNHCR staff to escort the relief convoy from Mashad to Iran's main north-eastern border crossing at Dogharoun, more than 250 kms away. Distribution of the supplies is being discussed with other partners in the operation to ensure the supplies get to the most needy displaced people in Herat. According to the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), whose staff escorted the first convoy to Herat on 29 October, there is a pressing need for plastic sheeting, blankets and warm clothing for the displaced population as winter approaches.

2) Flood damage at Kakuma Camp in Kenya

Aid workers at Kakuma camp in northeastern Kenya are continuing urgent work under overcast skies to provide new shelter for thousands of refugee families left homeless by heavy rains last week. UNHCR staff said this morning that the unprecedented weather that destroyed more than 7,000 family shelters and left two refugees dead has moved out of the area, but that they are racing to re-house refugees as more rain threatens.

Two young Somali boys drowned in the floods that swept through the area last week. They were apparently caught by rising waters as they crossed a riverbed from one part of the camp to another.

Teams of aid workers have been putting up new shelters at a rate of 60 a day in an unaffected portion of the site. Construction is expected to accelerate with the delivery today of more building material. The extension of the camp's clean water system to the new area will be completed today, and eight banks of new latrines have been dug so far to replace facilities that collapsed in the downpour.

As an emergency measure, UNHCR has also distributed two plastic sheets each to over 2,500 families whose roofs collapsed last week, but who can rebuild the existing structures. We are bringing in another 2,000 plastic sheets from our regional stockpile, but will need around 5,000 more for immediate needs and to reconstitute the camp's emergency supply.

Over 100 families are still housed in community centres, while most refugees have been able to move in with neighbours or friends on a temporary basis. UNHCR's priority has been to re-house families headed by women, or who are unable to do construction work themselves. The distribution of food to all affected refugees was completed yesterday (Thursday) and by tomorrow the entire camp population will have received the delayed rations.

A team of NGO and UNHCR health experts has warned that further rains would require a broad immunisation of the camp population of 81,000, mostly Sudanese refugees, as there is a heightened risk now of cholera, respiratory diseases and malaria.

3) Germany

Earlier this week, the German government announced that it intends to introduce a new immigration law which will stipulate that people who are subject to persecution by so-called non-state agents of persecution should be considered as refugees within the framework of the 1951 refugee Convention. UNHCR warmly welcomes the proposed change, which would bring an end to one of the most damaging anomalies in legislative practise in Europe. Non-state agents of persecution means groups or organizations that are not controlled by a country's government. Thus, refugees coming from countries that have no functioning government, or whose government does not control the whole territory, were unable to receive refugee status, even if they could prove persecution beyond all reasonable doubt. Even someone who had visibly suffered extreme torture, or who had been raped, would not be recognized as a refugee in the few countries that have excluded victims of non-state agent of persecution from refugee status -- if the torturer was not working for an official government. Thus, in recent years refugees fleeing persecution in countries such as Liberia, Somalia, Angola or from Taliban-held Afghanistan were routinely excluded from refugee status under the 1951 Convention. The proposed change to the law would bring Germany into line with virtually all other states that have signed the 1951 Convention.

The idea that victims of non-state agent of persecution could be excluded from receiving refugee status crept into the legislative practise of a few European countries over the years. By the mid-1990s, there were six countries that had a similar provision in their laws - Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Sweden and Norway changed their laws in the late 1990s to get rid of this distinction, and the practice of excluding victims of non-state agents has in practise been considerably diluted in France and Italy. Switzerland has stated publicly that it is considering a change. However, the practise is still on the statute books in both Switzerland and Germany. UNHCR's position - and that of virtually all states outside of Europe -- has always been that, under the 1951 Convention, the key factor in a refugee claim is the risk of persecution, not the identity of the persecutor.

4) Greece: Boat arrival

UNHCR is pleased with the humanitarian response of Greece following the rescue of a ship with more than 700 people aboard. On 5 November, a ship carrying 714 people, including many women and 180 children (aged from 19 days to 10 years old), was towed to the island of Zakynthos by Greek rescue teams after the crew had lost control of the vessel in a storm. The ship had reportedly been sailing from Izmir, Turkey, to Italy. Those on board were exhausted, hungry and dehydrated. Some 220 people, mostly women and children, in need of medical treatment, were brought to the hospital. A decision to allow the rest of the people off the ship was made by the Merchant Marine Minister, who flew to the Ionian island. The local government organized the reception of those on board the vessel, who are being housed in a local hotel and an athletic centre. All were registered by the port authorities. Screening by the police, including initiation of the asylum procedure for those who want to apply, is expected to start in a couple of days. The breakdown of nationalities following the first registration by the port authorities showed: Iraqi (Kurds) 103; Iraqi Arabs 5; Afghans 36; Iranians 12; Turks (Kurds) 451; Turks 31; Sri Lankans 8; Ethiopians 7; Eritreans 19; Indians 13; Palestinians 28; Pakistan 1.

Seven Turks, believed to have organized the voyage, were arrested by Greek authorities. A UNHCR team has flown to the island to monitor the operation.

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