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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 12:32 GMT
Have the Afghan refugees been forgotten?
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The worst fighting may be over in Afghanistan but aid agencies warn that the refugee crisis will not be solved for years to come.

There were at least two million refugees in Pakistan alone before the start of the American bombing in October, more than 200,000 are thought to have crossed the border since then.

Many of these refugees are desperate to return home but the UNHCR has been urging them not to return immediately, since Afghanistan is not ready to receive them.

The primary obstacle to large-scale repatriation now is security as tribal warlords continue to fight over the spoils of war.

Jobs and food are also both in short supply in a country where six to seven million people are reported to remain on the brink of starvation.

Does the West need to do more to help the Afghan refugees? What should the new interim government do to help the Afghan people repatriate?

We took your calls on this subject live in the phone-in discussion programme, Talking Point ON AIR. We were joined by Chris Janowski of the UNHCR and David Horrocks from Christian Aid

This Talking Point is now closed.

  • Your comments since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    Your comments since the programme

    Apparently the Afghan refugees haven't been forgotten, because the International Community/the Interim Government this time will stand over their pledges to help Afghans rebuild their war-ravaged country and provide peace, freedom, food shortages, education etc. If they act so, certainly the refugees are not forgotten and they can return to their beloved country.
    Khaaled Hamza, Essex, United Kingdom

    As a western citizen, I am very concerned about the way we manage this huge problem of refugees. If we take a serious look at the problem, it looks like we use the refugees to justify our lasting involvement in Afghanistan after the war. We care about refugees only when we have some sort of interest, not for the sake of the refugees.
    Gilbert, Paris

    Your comments during the programme

    Where is Afghanistan's Marshall Plan?

    Jason Boisvert Columbia, MO USA
    It seems to me that not only are there refugees of Afghanistan but the entire country itself is a refugee of the planet's crisscrossing agendas. When Europe was destroyed by Hitler, the U.S. didn't think twice about rebuilding it and even Japan. Where is that sense of duty in the West today? Where is Afghanistan's Marshall Plan?
    Jason Boisvert Columbia, MO USA

    It is too early for all refugees to go back to Afghanistan

    Gopalan K.N., Riyadh, S.Arabia
    I think it is too early for all refugees to go back to Afghanistan; even before the Taleban rule and American bombing millions have been living in Pakistan and Iran. Before relocating they need a stable government free of warlords, proper shelters and all refugees must be screened from drug traffic, Taleban/Al Quaida connection and weapons. Otherwise it will be back to square one in spite of all help and aid by international community
    Gopalan K.N., Riyadh,S.Arabia

    I may be stupid, but why are the world's refugees always a WESTERN problem? These refugees are Islamic, so what's wrong with the sickeningly wealthy Middle Eastern countries like Saudia Arabia and Kuwait putting their hands in their pockets to help the refugees? We never hear of these oil-rich countries doing anything other than indulging themselves in rich lifestyles. Surely it's time that THEY shared their wealth too. In America, at least, we have enough poor kids who don't get enough to eat, and we hardly do anything to help them at all. Rid yourselves of the idea that we all drive luxury cars and have money to burn, nothing could be further from the truth.
    Susan, USA/UK

    Your comments before we went ON AIR

    Afghanistan was a humanitarian crisis before it was anything else. There are millions of Afghan refugees in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Iran. They were forgotten before and it seems they are being forgotten again.
    Imran, Atlanta, USA

    We need to rebuild the country. That in itself will be the best help to the Afghan refugees, for a country that is developing, with a vital economy will also stimulate the refugees to come home. This will not be an overnight process and during this period the refugees and their host countries have to be supported by the international community.
    Frits Meijer, Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Instead of wasting money on senseless bombing, help the refugees, give them food and shelter.
    Linsemud, Fr.Antillies

    International aid agencies should take on the moral obligation of helping Afghan refugees remaining in Pakistan by sustaining them with their basic everyday needs until the new government is well enough established to promote a solid lasting peace among the warring parties. That is going to take some time.
    Hany Rengier, Cologne/Germany

    The West is obligated to help the refugees

    Dr Adnan Siddiqui, London, UK
    If the war against terrorism is to be truly won then the West is obligated to help the refugees. Bombs kill terrorists but not terrorism and this ideology thrives in the hopelessness and despair of refugee camps in Pakistan, Gaza or wherever you care to name. If we ignore this problem we will have many more dates besides 9/11 to remember in the future.
    Dr Adnan Siddiqui, London, UK

    The US and its allies as well as all rich Islamic nations have a moral responsibility to help the Afghan refugees return to their homeland and help them lead a peaceful and decent life. We all know it will take time. The West should prove to the rest of the world that they care for the poor and the marginalised in any part of the world irrespective of their religion. The UNHCR's efforts to help the poverty-stricken refugees of Afghanistan should be supported by all nations.
    Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda (Indian)

    September 11th was nothing to done with the Afghan people, though they have paid a high price as a result. Afghanistan was a failed country due to being used as an ideological battle ground for decades, in which the US was once a very active participant, until the Russians left. The US now needs to decide whether it wants to win the peace or fight a 'mythological' war against terrorism.
    Barry B, UK

    The time is ripe for the establishment of a government in Afghanistan that can bring peace, stability and rehabilitate national unity. The establishment could be possible only under the auspices of the United Nations and its sincere involvement.
    Rafiullah Taeb Jabarkhel, Peshawar, Pakistan

    We owe it to them to help them

    Will Faulkner, Cheshire, UK
    These poor children are destined for a life of poverty and illness. We need to take some responsibility for this and take them into our country and give them refuge. We owe it to them to help them.
    Will Faulkner, UK

    The final outcome is up to the citizens of Afghanistan. They have been liberated from the Taleban and the "foreign devils". They are now charged with rebuilding their country and now have the great advantage of international support. Still, it is up to them to do the work. I pray that they will include and appreciate the services of their women. After all this war and strife was crude, subhuman and grossly misplaced. Women are needed on many levels. Afghan women must participate if there is to be peace and stability or a semblance of order.
    Elitewaki, USA

    To bring peace in Afghanistan all the weapons should be collected from every individual so that nobody will even think of war, then everybody will return to education, work and rebuilding the country and we can think of a peaceful country.
    Ahmed Farid Rahmanzai, London, England

    Forget about them and their pathetic troublesome nation

    Mark Blackburn, London, England
    Forget about them and their pathetic troublesome nation. Stamp out the terrorism and leave them be. Most of their people are probably in Pakistan anyway - don't be surprised if the war spreads over there and action needs to be taken again and MORE British and Americans are killed. I believe it needs to be controlled but also believe it to be their problem.
    Mark Blackburn, London, England

    Reading Mark Blackburn's remarks invoked feelings of anger, contempt and pity in me. If Afghanistan had not been turned into a battleground on which the ideologies of communism and capitalism faced off, then such feeble minded people would not have had to display their weak character. After the Soviets were kicked out of Afghanistan, the entire world watched while America and its partner in crime Britain ignored the helpless and displaced refugees. Far from being a "pathetic and troublesome nation", Afghanistan is a victim of western ill intention and expansionism aided by brutal warlords who were trained and nourished through British and American policy.
    Wahid Ezaty, Sydney, Australia

    There are some misplaced concerns here. Have we forgotten the thousands of innocents killed, and children left without a mother or father after 11 September? Have we forgotten that the fires under the rubble of the World Trade Centre have just now been put out, three months later? Afghanistan has been at war with itself for years. We have given them a chance for recovery. We have donated food, money and transport. No we have not forgotten the refugees. Have you forgotten all the lives ruined on 11 September?
    Rob, New York, USA

    Rob, NY: First of all I agree with you but I guess what the world unfortunately does not revolve around the US. I'm sorry to say that in respect for the dead and the families who lost loved ones. My uncle is still missing because of these attacks but I still care about the refugees elsewhere in the world where the government is not able to provide security blankets for them. The US has gotten moral support from most countries because guess what - the US government is able to take care of its own people. The Afghans cannot take care of themselves as we have seen over the past 50 years of civil and tribal wars. If the US can stop vindicating itself for support why not show that it is a compassionate country.
    Mo Siddiqui, UK

    Some of the views expressed here are shocking. So much for this being a fight between the "civilised" and "uncivilised" world!
    Al, London

    The West's behaviour abroad is terrorising civilians and on an infinitely larger scale than 11 September

    Ben R, BoA, England
    The current refugee situation reflects the attitudes of the western world. America goes on the rampage and worsens a situation that they were initially responsible for 20 years ago, but ignored, and now millions of people are on the brink of starvation. Terrorism is civilisation's enemy and needs to be removed, but surely not at the expense of so many innocent people? Can the desperate plight of so many Afghan refugees be justified by an attack that killed just 3000? The West needs to wake up and see that their behaviour abroad is terrorising civilians, and on an infinitely larger scale than 11 September.
    Ben R, BoA, England

    The 'civilised' Western conscience is untroubled by the famine deaths that result from their genocidal policies

    Brendan Tuohy, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa
    The West has always forgotten the victims of its wars. Who cares that more innocent civilians died under US and British bombs in Afghanistan than perished on 11 September? And as for the inevitable starvation deaths - if the Iraqi sanctions prove anything it is that the "civilised" Western conscience is untroubled by the famine deaths that result from their genocidal policies. All Afghan deaths have a low Victim Importance Factor - the factor that makes West European or American or Israeli deaths so much more important in the imperial media than the deaths of anyone else.
    Brendan Tuohy, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa

    It is ultimately the responsibility of the US and its allies to feed these people and get them safely back to their homes

    Charles Moore, Edinburgh,Scotland
    There seems to be a view here that Afghanistan is now a peaceful place and there is no impediment to these people returning. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Firstly, there is a considerable amount of fighting still going on. The fractious nature of the Northern Alliance and the Pashtun anti Taleban groups means there is a likelihood of full scale civil war at any time.

    Secondly, many of the new rulers are much worse than the Taleban. Many of the inhabitants of Kandahar fled to escape the rule of it's pre-Taleban governor, Gul Aghar, a man who has a terrifying reputation of savage brutality.

    Thirdly, many of the refugees have nothing to return to. Their homes and farms were razed by the Taleban, destroyed by US bombing or made useless by minefields. Many are unable to return to their own districts because they are in a persecuted minority.

    In short, there is an almighty mess. This partly existed before the US bombing and is attributable to the Taleban. But as the Taleban were themselves a product of US foreign policy and Bin Laden a US import into Afghanistan it is ultimately the responsibility of the US and its allies to feed these people and get them safely back to their homes.
    Charles Moore, Edinburgh,Scotland

    We have restored the environment which led to the formation of Taleban in the first place

    Mick, UK
    Let's not kid ourselves that suddenly everything is well in Afghanistan. We have restored the environment which led to the formation of Taleban in the first place - competing warlords, crime and corruption. We have trashed what little infrastructure remained (usually Russian built). Unless the ordinary Afghan is given a viable future, they will continue just being used as expendable pawns, by everyone from Bin Laden through to Bush. But that seems to be OK - they are a long way away, they don't vote or fund political parties, and they largely die unheard, from starvation, disease, mines or 'liberating bombs'.
    Mick, UK

    It's sad to see how people think that they and their countries do not owe any responsibilities towards the Afghan refugees

    Akbar Ehsan, USA
    It is sad to see how people think that they and their countries do not owe any responsibilities towards the Afghan refugees. If they think that way, then they should have left them alone in the first place and not fought their wars on the Afghan soil. I am talking about the Cold War the West fought against the Russians there. That was the first cause of creating a refugee crisis. From there, it snowballed. Sure, we can play ostrich and say we did not do it, it is the problem of the Afghans.
    Akbar Ehsan, USA

    Another huge flood of welfare claimers and council-house takers heading our way

    Paul, England
    Here we go - another huge flood of welfare claimers and council-house takers heading our way. Isn't it time we told people to go back into their own countries rather than coming in and sucking ours dry - which is the inevitable conclusion if we don't tell these people to go back to their homes? I wouldn't mind aiding people if they're willing to help themselves - but people are too ready to cry and whinge. When I saw people dancing in the streets and enjoying themselves in their country it showed me that it can't be all bad, and now they're out from being oppressed they have a golden opportunity to make something great of themselves. They'll have the backing of everyone if they don't send their people over here to claim our money from our welfare system and send it home.
    Paul, England

    It is my understanding that there are several aid agencies with food and supplies ready to deliver. But the criminal element has to be stabilized before it is safe for them to get these supplies through to the refugees. I think the incoming peacekeeping forces will help with this effort. The military is working on the airports so more aid can be flown in and I think the re-opening of the bridge in the north of the country is also helping. Contrary to what a lot of people may believe, many Americans, including our President, care a great deal about the refugees.
    Gwen, USA

    The Afghan refugee crisis, so called, is in danger of mismanagement

    Robert Morpheal, Canada
    The Afghan refugee crisis, so called, is in danger of mismanagement. What would be best is to make certain that the refugees are returned to Afghanistan, and that provision is made for them there so that they do not starve or suffer lack of other necessities until the infra structure can be stabilized. Any other action will worsen the long-term outcome both for them and otherwise. Anything less than that will prove to cause a variable exacerbation of the situation and will provoke some amount of embarrassment to the world community. In some ways the situation is deliberately created and exacerbated, to cause such embarrassments, and that needs to be kept in mind.
    Robert Morpheal, Canada

    No I have not forgotten the refugees nor have I forgotten how easily these people change face and turn against all foreigners even those helping them. I'm only willing to give so much help. The Islamic civilisation needs to develop before it should be allowed to integrate with the civilised world.
    Garry H, England

    If the refugees have been forgotten is it partly the fault of the international press. The people of the West have short memories and rely on the press to keep them informed. Now that it is reaching its conclusion, the needs of the refugees should be brought to the fore once more, so that aid can be raised for them. But, even on slow news days (And it seems there have been many), very few news agencies have reported this. We have a responsibility to these people, but our lifestyles are such that if not reminded of it we will forget. I consider myself a humane person but until reading this article I had completely forgotten about their plight.
    Chris Hollett, UK

    Why is it presumed it's the West's responsibility? This refugee crisis wasn't caused by the West. These people do not fear American or British troops but the Taleban. And for good reason. Why don't the Muslim nations do something? Specifically Saudi Arabia which has spent hundreds of millions funding so-called religious schools that are the breeding ground for Islamic fanatics. They need to take the lead here and right some of the grievous wrongs done in the name of Islam. How much aid are British Muslims sending? We hear a lot from them on this board. What are they going to do?
    Peter C. Kohler, Washington DC, USA

    We must keep in mind that millions of Afghans had fled the country long before the current conflict; some have been in camps for nearly 20 years and have actually set up their own little towns with economic systems. Did we forget them? I'd have to answer that question with a question: In light of Afghanistan's war-torn history, what could we have done for them? Financial aid, especially via Pakistan, yes. But we could not have returned them to their homes when their country was embroiled in one war after another. Let's not forget that the Taleban did not welcome outsiders, no matter how benign their interests.
    Jennifer Ethington, USA

    George Bush and Tony Blair have run the military campaign in Afghanistan with one aim in mind - the annihilation of the terror that was within the country. The true victims of the war, the Afghan people, have been ignored whilst the eyes of the world have been on New York and the atrocities which occurred there. Fundraising initiatives like we saw for the victims of 11 September are what is needed to help these war-torn families on the other side of the world. The Afghan people need our help. Now more than ever.
    Gavin Male, London, England

    I do not believe that the refugees have been or will be forgotten. I see fundraising for the Afghans in my community and by our children in our schools. My country is also the largest donor of aid to Afghanistan and that was true before the military campaign. Our aid to the country was not a PR stunt, it has been going there for years. Maybe Gavin Male would like to start a fund himself and put the money where his mouth is.
    Anon, UK

    I fully agree with Gavin Male from London. It's all very well being horrified, quite rightly, at what occurred in NY on 11 September but people have to realise that the people of Afghanistan are also innocent parties in all this and are also one of the poorest countries in the world (compared to America which is the richest and can afford to help it's own people). It is only natural for civilised people to want to help people in distress but let's not forget who is most in distress at this time: the Afghans.
    Stephen Marshall, Surrey, UK

    Now that the fighting is over, all Afghan refugees should return to Afghanistan immediately to help rebuild their country

    Michael Entill, UK
    Now that the fighting is over, all Afghan refugees should return to Afghanistan immediately to help rebuild their country. Ultimately, it's their duty and responsibility to do so. The West must provide economic support and stability until there is a viable infrastructure in Afghanistan, but the country's long-term future is really in the hands of its citizens.
    Michael Entill, UK

    The Afghan regime must tackle task of repatriation immediately to let refugees lay their claims upon the site they would prefer to return. First, priority should be given to establish peace and order all over Afghanistan and refugees must be allowed to return to their native land or land of their choice. West should facilitate UN efforts more in achieving its goal towards Afghan refugee crisis.
    Habib Hemani, San Francisco, USA

    Of course the whole world has forgotten the refugees, especially those who number up to the millions on the borders of Iran and Pakistan. These two countries have had to take care of these refugees for over 10 years with no hope from the poverty stricken country of Afghanistan. My country Pakistan needs support of food and clothing so that we can help our neighbours. I just hope the UN can provide us with some way of ending the refugee status.
    Mo Siddiqui, UK

    I think the UNHCR and the new interim government ought to set up and secure a sustainable social security net. This net should be there even after the interim government. There will be a constant need for scrutiny of food and medicine supply by the UN for a couple of decades, I guess. For the time being, the task for the UN is to secure their own people, to supervise and optimise the activities of aid agencies and their resources, and to co-operate with the government(s) which should gradually overtake the UN tasks. The interim government will have to focus on the everyday problems of the ordinary people while disarming the wild warlords. The interim government will have to establish collaboration with UNHCR and secure the future of the aid distribution system.
    Peter Volford, Odenburg, Hungary

    We should leave them to rebuild things themselves

    Fraser Howse, London, UK
    I think we have done all we can. What more do they want? We have helped them by kicking out the evil that possessed their country and now we should leave them to rebuild things themselves. But keeping a close eye on things certainly wouldn't hurt.
    Fraser Howse, London, UK

    Afghanistan has been freed from an oppressive regime. A democratic governmental body should be set up immediately and monitored in order to ensure it remains stable and secure. Aid should be given to encourage the Afghans to rebuild their country and to make the most of their new found freedom. Finally, all Afghan asylum seekers should be immediately returned to their own country, now that they have nothing to fear from the deposed rulers.
    Steve Cahill, England

    Getting into a war is easy, it's getting out of it afterwards that's a problem

    Eileen, UK
    Steve Cahill and Michael Entill are classics. Having assisted the US to bomb a poverty stricken country into rubble, we should now repatriate all Afghan refugees, chuck them a few food parcels and leave them to get on with rebuilding from the ruins.
    It's not that easy guys. Getting into a war is easy, it's getting out of it afterwards that's a problem. Don't you feel that we owe the Afghan population something, after murdering all those innocent civilians?
    Eileen, UK

    First thing would be to cut off all heroin chains to the rest of the world and set up a rehabilitation centre for their people. Then we can start the rebuilding process. This country needs the attention of the rest of the world once its problems are straightened out.
    Paul, Merseyside, England

    The ignorance of your correspondents leaves me speechless. If Steve Cahill believes that Afghan asylum seekers have nothing to fear, then he is very much mistaken. The Northern Alliance has an appalling record of human rights abuses and their treatment of women is in some cases as bad as the Taleban. As for Paul, Merseyside, sorry to disappoint you, but it was the Taleban who attempted to put an end to heroin production with a great deal of success. Again it was the media's darlings the Northern Alliance who profited from the heroin trade. And on Fraser Howse's impossibly callous comment, "What more do they want?" - how about the West not flooding them with arms, the CIA not training Bin Laden to fight the Russians and then dropping bombs on this beleaguered country when they refused to surrender their former ally?
    Phil, UK

    I love it how people come up with all of these ideas about cutting off heroin supplies, resettling people, rebuilding the country! All of these are great ideas, but totally useless at the moment. Can't we just think about how to feed and clothe people through out the coming winter? It's strange how people were willing to donate money to help one of the richest countries in the world, but who don't care about people starving in one of the poorest.
    Donna, UK

    Peter Kohler, USA
    "They haven't been forgotten"
    David Horrocks, UK
    "Conditions are pretty desperate"
    Amanulah, Pakistan
    "I want to start rebuilding"
    Lana Milligan, US
    "This is a great chance for the Afghan people"
    Barry Salaam, Afghan in Pakistan
    "I am optimistic about the future of my country"
    Mohammad Ayub Tughra, Norway
    "I am concerned about internally displaced people"
    Brendan Tuohy, New Zealand
    "The interests of the refugees are being neglected"


    Political uncertainty






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    20 Dec 01 | Europe
    06 Dec 01 | South Asia
    09 Dec 01 | South Asia
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