UN refugee agency to withdraw 30 staff from Afghan border area after killing

18 November 2003

The United Nations refugee agency announced today that it was temporarily suspending assistance to Afghan returnees from Pakistan, withdrawing 30 international staff from the border area and closing reception centres in four provinces following the weekend killing of a staff member.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it would review the situation in two weeks.

"If reconstruction of the country is to continue, governments must consider more seriously helping Afghanistan achieve security and stability," Filippo Grandi, UNHCR's chief of mission for Afghanistan, said. "We cannot do this alone. This murder tragically proved it."

Bettina Goislard, a 29-year-old French national working for UNHCR, was travelling in a clearly marked agency vehicle through the centre of Ghazni city when gunmen pulled up on a motorcycle, opened fire and killed her on Sunday.

Mr. Grandi said the agency would temporarily reduce its staff in eastern and southern Afghanistan, withdrawing 30 international staff and closing refugee reception centres in the provinces of Nangarhar, Paktia, Khost and Kandahar.

UNHCR has also temporarily closed its voluntary repatriation centres in Peshawar and Quetta in neighbouring Pakistan to ensure that returnees do not arrive at agency offices inside Afghanistan that are not open.

Ms. Goislard was the first UN staff member to be murdered in Afghanistan since UN operations resumed there after the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001. Since then, UNHCR has assisted in the return of 2.5 million refugees from Iran and Pakistan and some 500,000 internally displaced people.

At UN Headquarters in New York today, General Assembly President Julian Hunte added his voice to the condemnation of Ms. Goislard’s murder. “We are greatly concerned that international humanitarian workers are becoming increasingly the target of violence and terrorism,” he said.


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