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US Disappointed in European Aid to Afghan Refugees - 2002-08-07

The United States is criticizing European countries for not doing enough to assist 1.5 million Afghans who have returned home from foreign refugee camps. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Gene Dewey says the lack of money could force many Afghans to leave again.

Mr. Dewey told a Kabul news conference Wednesday the international community faces what he called "enormous challenges" in helping Afghanistan deal with history's largest repatriation of people.

Mr. Dewey heads the State Department Bureau for Population, Migration and Refugees. He said 1.5 million Afghans have come home since the Taleban government fell in December.

"The continued flood of refugees and internally displaced persons back to their homes does demonstrate their own faith in the institutions of the government and of the international community in providing for their future. It also shows their faith in the future of Afghanistan," he said.

However, Mr. Dewey said he is disappointed that European Union countries are not giving more support to U.N. agencies grappling with the repatriation crisis.

"The possible result of this could be the flocking of refugees to the cities, adding to the burden of cities such as Kabul," said Mr. Dewey. "The worst case, of course, would be for them to go back to Pakistan, or back to Iran."

Mr. Dewey said the United States has had to pick up the shortfall from Europe. For example, the United States provides nearly 100 percent of the food now coming into Afghanistan, through the U.N.'s World Food Program.

Also at the news conference was Daniel Enders, a U.N. refugee official based in Kabul. He said the budget crunch has forced the United Nations to cut its assistance package for repatriated Afghans.

"As a first step, we had to lower the assistance for transport. We also had to reduce the non-food item package," Mr. Enders explained. "We used to give buckets, jerry cans, blankets. These items are no longer given. The original plan to build about 70,000 houses has been scaled back to 50,000. And, that will definitely have an impact, on particularly vulnerable people who will come back and who have difficulties building their own house.

Mr. Dewey said, during a visit to northern Afghanistan, he met representatives of militia leaders Ustad Atta and Abdul Rashid Dostum. He appealed to them to restore peace so that suspended relief operations in the region can resume.

"We made it very clear that the security situation and the improvements are in their hands to deal with. The law-and-order is in their hands. They can chose to make it better or they can choose to continue to deprive their people of assistance. And I don't know how much louder or more clear we could have made the message.

The United Nations says it has stockpiled food for 250,000 people, in case fighting or other disruptions occur during the approaching winter.