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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And of course one man who's been following the crisis from the very start, not a new face in this case but an older respected face leading the international efforts to get much needed aid into Afghanistan and that's Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who joins us now from Geneva, good morning.

RUUD LUBBERS: Good morning

DAVID FROST: Now that half the country or more is, is in - as we would put it - safe hands, does that mean that the aid that you've been saying is so vital is getting in by convoys, by road now or not enough?

RUUD LUBBERS: Not enough, remarkably much food was brought in earlier and also other things but it's still not at all a secure environment so although our international staff went back to Kabul and hopes to go back to the other places and we are starting up our offices, local staff is working again and is very positive including our female local staff which are working there. So we have really re-started it, one cannot say that it is safe in the country and secure enough so there's just quite a job to be done in future in creating a secure environment for humanitarian assistance and if that is done you'll see as the next step returnees, people going home, their first voluntarily spontaneous returns are already happening but that's not at the eastern side of the country, near Pakistan, but that is in the region of Iraq where they come back from Iran there are limited numbers. But still I think we are talking around a thousand a day who go spontaneously in in that part of the country which is safer and more controlled as is, as is the eastern part where it is really not safe today.

DAVID FROST: There's obviously fantastic human need there but back in September there were reports that as many as six or seven million Afghans were facing starvation, is it better than we feared, terrible still but is it less than six or seven million facing starvation?

RUUD LUBBERS: I think the estimate of the challenge was correct but we brought in a special World Food programme, substantial tonnage of food and that was remarkable that even in the grim faces of the war truckers were prepared to drive food to warehouses. We are not sure of it reaching the small villages probably not, but all over Afghanistan enormous tonnage of food was distributed. So I think you can say that, that many millions are just starving but having said that it's still very difficult, you have remote villages as a result of the bombing, airstrikes on the cities you might, you have to assume that between 70 and 50 per cent of the inhabitants of many cities were fleeing to the countryside and the mountains. Only limited numbers were able to make it irregular because the borders were closed to Pakistan, we are talking there maybe 150, 170,000, so there must be many hundreds, thousands more what we call uprooted internally displaced persons in the countryside and in the mountains. I'm not saying they are all really starving at this moment but it is very critical and the winter has started now which adds of course to the problems. But to make one other note, one should be aware that before all this started we have already for years a drought, many people were starving and it was one of the reasons that people wanted to flee, before September 11th, 200,000 fresh refugees who were very poor people came in from Afghanistan into Pakistan, this is an indication that we have already a very situation before the events of September 11th.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you very much indeed Ruud, it is clearly a situation where you can give a sort of progress report but with so much more to do, right?

RUUD LUBBERS: Yes, that's correct, and at this very moment we still repeat the plea all the time that in particular the government of Pakistan opens its borders for the humanitarian hardship cases, indeed there ten thousands of people would like to cross the border to safe sites where we can provide them with shelter and food and medicine or they now have to stay in Taliban-dominated Pakistan near the border and it's simply not good. So I do hope that we can convince the government to do better.

DAVID FROST: Very good, thank you very much, an appeal there, Ruud Lubbers thank you very much indeed, an appeal there to the government of Pakistan from Ruud Lubbers.


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