Afghanistan + 2 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: Chechnya, Zambia/Angola, Afghanistan

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This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below left
Ron Redmond

1. Chechnya

UNHCR continues to be concerned about the situation of civilians remaining in Grozny. We are particularly worried about handicapped, old and frail persons in Grozny who are reportedly unable to move out and whose fate and condition is unknown. Confusion reigns over the Russian ultimatum issued to Grozny's civilians last Monday telling them to leave the city by December 11 (Saturday) or be destroyed. The Russian media today are quoting the Emergencies Minister, Mr. Sergei Shoigu, as saying civilians can also leave after the deadline.

The Russians have reportedly opened a corridor from Grozny to the Russian controlled settlement of Pervomayskoe, northeast of the Chechen capital, but few people have used the corridor. There are still reportedly 35,000 to 40,000 civilians in Grozny. A majority have been moved to outlying districts of the city.

People continue to cross from Chechnya to Ingushetia (930 on Thursday) but there is also a movement back to Russian-controlled parts of Chechnya (850 on Thursday). The Ingush authorities now say they host 240,000 people from Chechnya.

Today (Friday) another UNHCR convoy arrived in Ingushetia's capital, Nazran, from Stavropol delivering 225 MT of food. This brings the total tonnage of aid supplied to Ingushetia to over 2,700 metric tons.

UNHCR has received donor pledges for US$ 5.4 million to pay for our operations in Chechnya - a generous response to our US$ 8.5 million appeal launched just two weeks ago.

2. Angolan refugees to Zambia

More than 2,000 refugees from Angola arrived in Zambia over the last four days following heavy fighting between UNITA and the Angolan army in the area around Lumbala N'Guimbe in Angola's Moxico province. The largest population of new arrivals is currently concentrated in Kalabo, on the western side of the Zambezi plains, where 1,450 were recorded as of yesterday morning, 9 December. This number includes some 200 military personnel from the Angolan army (FAA) who are presently being disarmed by Zambian security personnel.

There are indications that the confrontation has intensified along the entire border between Zambia and Angola, raising the possibility of more refugees into Zambia

Food and non-food supplies have been dispatched the region and UNHCR staff have been deployed to Meheba, in Western province, to co-ordinate the relief effort.

The main operational concern is availability of transport to ensure that refugees can be transferred quickly from transit locations to the refugee camps of Mayukwayukwa and Meheba. Logistical difficulties will further compound the operation as the Zambezi plains are beginning to flood, rendering Kalabo inaccessible by road. Possibilities of hiring boats are being assessed.

Zambia has hosted Angolan refugees for decades. More than 32,000 were already accommodated in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa, which is one of the oldest refugee settlements in Africa.

3. Afghanistan

Despite continuing turmoil, more than 100,000 Afghans have returned from neighboring countries so far this year.

At more than 2.6 million, the Afghan refugee population remains the largest in the world. There are presently some 1.2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan living in refugee villages in the provinces of Peshawar and Balochistan, plus an undetermined number - anywhere from 500,000 to 2 million - living in urban areas in the main cities of Pakistan. Iran, meanwhile, has registered an estimated 1.4 million Afghan refugees, but several hundred thousand more are known to be living on Iranian territory undocumented.

Fighting north of Kabul in July 1999 provoked the displacement of more than 300,000 people inside Afghanistan and a limited but steady flow of refugees through the border with Pakistan. UNHCR is closely monitoring the situation and assists new arrivals to settle in refugee villages.

Despite the unstable situation in parts of Afghanistan, voluntary repatriation remains the most preferred solution by many Afghans and by the governments of Iran and Pakistan. Given the situation in Afghanistan, UNHCR does not promote repatriation but rather facilitates the voluntary return of Afghans who wish to do so.

Since the beginning of 1999, more than 88,300 people received UNHCR assistance and returned voluntarily from Pakistan. Another 35,000 did the same from Iran with the assistance of the Afghan Embassy, and 6,000 with UNHCR's assistance.

Returnees, after verification in the two countries of asylum, receive a standard repatriation grant comprising 300 kgs of wheat flour, a cash grant of $40 as well as plastic sheeting and blankets. A large program of assistance is put in place by UNHCR in rural areas of Afghanistan to help returnees reintegrate in their communities.

For the year 2000, if the necessary funds are made available and the situation improves in Afghanistan, UNHCR is planning to return at least 100,000 people from Pakistan. If a plan of action can be signed with the government in Teheran, a similar number could return from Iran.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.