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UNHCR: Afghanistan Needs Urgent Help to Improve Refugee  Safety - 2003-04-20

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said growing insecurity in Afghanistan is jeopardizing the safety of millions of Afghan refugees who want to return home. The UNHCR said Afghan and international forces must act to improve security in the country.

The refugee agency said the deteriorating security situation in parts of Afghanistan is endangering efforts to support returning refugees.

The agency reports three million Afghan refugees are still in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Another 350,000 "internally displaced" people are in southern Afghanistan. Since the Taleban regime collapsed last year, about two million refugees have returned to Afghanistan.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Kris Janowski said the safety of those who have returned and those who want to return is being jeopardized by insecurity in parts of Afghanistan. He said clashes between rival ethnic groups in southern and northwestern Afghanistan are increasing.

Mr. Janowski said the killing late last month of a water engineer from the International Committee of the Red Cross in southern Kandahar province is quite worrying. "The murder of the ICRC colleague seems to have been quite targeted, cold-blooded murder, essentially an act of violence directed at international aid workers. And, that, of course, is extremely, extremely worrying," he said.

Mr. Janowski said the killing has created fear among foreign workers, and has affected humanitarian aid. He said people cannot travel freely, and many agencies have curtailed their activities. "Ten international NGOs, non-governmental organizations, have pulled their staff out of Kandahar, at least on a temporary basis. And 10 organizations is quite a bit. The danger is that it will basically set off a vicious circle of reduced access for humanitarian, which means even less development aid, fewer returns, more instability, so on and so forth. So that is really worrying us," he said.

The U.N. refugee agency said it is in everyone's interest to promote and strengthen security in Afghanistan. If this does not happen, it warns, the positive trend seen so far in the return of millions of Afghan refugees could be reversed.