Remarks at the Strategic Consultations Convening on Refugee and Population Movements to and From AfghanistanArthur E. Dewey, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration
February 16, 2005
(As prepared for delivery)
I would like to thank our co-chairs, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Commission for hosting this event. I would also like to express my gratitude to the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran for your willingness to come together to try to find solutions to what are extremely complex and difficult issues. Today is another opportunity for donor governments to demonstrate our commitment to sustainable, strategic solutions for vulnerable Afghans. We fully support this effort regarding migratory and residual populations and endorse the objectives outlined by UNHCR HC Ruud Lubbers for reintegration and a comprehensive approach to enhance regional stability, development, and economic self-sufficiency.
The apparent success of Afghan repatriation and reintegration signals a reallocation of resources. We anticipate a downward trend in available funding for Afghanistan-related humanitarian assistance programs. This means that the linkages inside Afghanistan between humanitarian assistance and development are strong. Programs for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, women and children easily come to mind. They will not be abandoned.
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran share many customs and cultures. Their economies are intertwined and they have common elements in their history. After decades of conflict in Afghanistan, the region is at peace and the relationship of the three countries is reverting to normal. Our primary goal is to continue fostering the advance of democracy in Afghanistan and to provide economic and development assistance to help it get back on its feet.
We are at a critical point on refugee returns and reintegration. Agreements among UNHCR, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan to allow continued protection for Afghan refugees will soon expire, while more than 2 million Afghan refugees remain in these two countries. It is crucial that we turn our attention toward identifying the characteristics and needs of the residual populations expected to remain in Pakistan and Iran. The situation on the ground is such that local settlement is a reality.
We are pleased to hear about the progress that Minister Dadfar (Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation) and the Government of Afghanistan is making. I am convinced they are on the right track. The rapid GOA response to the unexpected cold winter was impressive. We are glad to support your efforts.
I think Minister Dadfar’s land dispute program, while ambitious, could play a vital role in the reintegration of returnees in Afghan society. His proposal for an emergency fund to that his ministry could move quickly to respond to crisis makes good sense. I was impressed with his dedication to capacity building. This is an important effort that will allow his ministry to rely less and less on the UNHCR and others.
We are grateful to Pakistan for having stayed the course and having been an exemplary host to literally millions of Afghan refugees for twenty years.
Now we see this long and difficult ordeal drawing to an end, and we can look forward to the day when Pakistan and Afghanistan resume normal, mutually beneficial relations as good neighbors. We have assisted Pakistan with its burden over the past twenty years, and we will continue to be of assistance in this upcoming period of transition.
We aggress that continued efforts must be put into continuing voluntary repatriation. We believe that the upcoming census will demonstrate that many Afghans still want to return to their country. Perhaps we can anticipate at least one, possible two, more good repatriation seasons. But we agree with UNHCR that, even if voluntary repatriation proceeds successfully, there are likely to e a significant number of Afghans for whom voluntary repatriation will not be suitable. We must develop ways to deal with this population in a fair, humane, yet creative way, so that instead of becoming and impediment to good Afghan-Pakistani relations, they become a foundation of that relationship.
The Government of Pakistan has proposed a number of areas in which Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s development partners might direct resources to assist this transition. I will leave it to my Pakistani colleagues to present these ideas in detail. I do want to say that I find them sensible and creative, and I hope they will appeal to the donor community, including international financial institutions with and interest in Pakistan’s successful development. I believe that if the Government of Pakistan produces a creative and comprehensive plan for comprehensively closing out two decades of humanitarian service in hosting Afghan refugees, the international community will give its material support.
We ask for patience from the Government of Iran as we facilitate the repatriation process in an orderly and voluntary manner. We will continue to emphasize support for voluntary returns to Afghanistan, as well as the mitigation of political and assistance pressures that could cause involuntary returns from Iran. Furthermore, we support programs that anchor and integrate these returnees into their communities of origin inside Afghanistan. The United States, however, is concerned and are presently monitoring a wave of refugee arrests and deportation of Afghan refugees. The United States is seeking assurance from Iran that Afghan refugees remaining in the country will continue to have access to basic services and will not be put under pressure to leave.
We and other donors remain committed to financial and programmatic support for UNHCR as it continues to help refugees exercise the best of all refugee solutions - going home. We support UNHCR’s efforts to conclude new Tripartite agreements with Iran and Pakistan when the current agreements expire. It will be essential for the governments of Iran and Pakistan to provide new arrangements, both political and economic, after the expiration of these agreements. We support UNHCR’s initiative in making this determination anchored by its objective, expert assessment of conditions in various parts of Afghanistan.
My delegation understands that our work is far from complete. These consultations engaging Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, donor governments, UNHCR, International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and non-governmental organizations represents the beginning of our collective and coordinated efforts to implement a sustainable approach by the international community with the regional governments to the situation regarding Afghan refugees. My delegation will consult with our co-chairs and participants to these consultations on the venue and timing of our next meeting. We believe that to build upon the momentum of today’s talks this should occur within the coming year.
We are partners with Afghanistan, and with each other, in this noble cause. The United States will maintain its commitment to working with UNHCR to ensure a successful transition. I look forward to hearing your ideas on how we can continue to accord the priority it deserves and support the Afghan success story. Thank you.
Released on March 8, 2005