UNHCR ready to aid fleeing Afghans but needs help from region's States - Lubbers

UNHCR ready to aid fleeing Afghans but needs help from region's States - Lubbers

Ruud Lubbers
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said today that his agency - UNHCR - is prepared to care for Afghans fleeing their country but will require the cooperation of the region's States to succeed.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Ruud Lubbers recalled that in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks against the United States, UNHCR had sent emergency teams to Afghanistan to assess the situation. They calculated that in the worst case scenario, 1.5 million Afghans could flee, mostly to Pakistan.

Following negotiations, the Governments concerned agreed to a temporary protection regime, the High Commissioner said, but implementing that agreement "proved to be rather difficult." It had been problematic getting sufficient security, access and infrastructure in the remote areas where camps were to be set up. "All is going now somewhat better," he added, noting that the agency is prepared to care for between 100,000 and 200,000 people.

"We could bring every day 5,000 people - we are prepared for that - to the camps," he said. "The critical point is not our preparedness - the critical point is the cooperation of the Government of Pakistan at the borders."

In the meantime, refugees had been arriving from Afghanistan as UNHCR holds talks with the host Governments seeking their flexibility at formal crossing points, and the opening of borders "for the really difficult cases." The large majority of people were fleeing to the mountainside within Afghanistan and not to the borders, Mr. Lubbers noted.

On the financial side, he said UNHCR was seeking contributions from both individuals and governments. He noted that the agency's Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie, had personally contributed $1 million. "This is a very good signal, I think."