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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.
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.
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.
Jason Boisvert Columbia, MO USA
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.
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.
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.
Instead of wasting money on senseless bombing, help the refugees, give them food and shelter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
Some of the views expressed here are shocking. So much for this being a fight between the "civilised" and "uncivilised" world!
Ben R, BoA, England
Brendan Tuohy, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa
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.
Akbar Ehsan, USA
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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