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President Bush has provided firm leadership in the international campaign to eradicate terrorism worldwide. A key part of his efforts is directed at both the immediate and the longer-term problems plaguing the people of Afghanistan, and on this front, too, the United States is providing leadership.
Compassion is an integral component of the President's foreign policy, and it motivates America, even in these trying times, to lead the international humanitarian relief effort for those most vulnerable. As the President has asserted, "We have no compassion for terrorists, or for any state that sponsors them. But we do have great compassion for the millions around the world who are victims of hate and oppression - including those in Afghanistan. We are friends of the Afghan people. We have an opportunity to make sure the world is a better place for generations to come."
The President announced last week a $320 million initiative to provide additional humanitarian assistance for Afghans -- for both those inside Afghanistan and for those who flee to neighboring countries. The United States has consistently been the largest donor to international humanitarian efforts. With vital help from a number of countries around the world, our goal is to alleviate the suffering that Afghans have endured for more than two decades, as a result of war, severe drought, and the brutal, repressive rule of the Taliban regime.
The United States believes that all of Afghanistan's neighbors should be prepared to accept new Afghan refugees as needed, and that the international community must be prepared to shoulder the economic costs incurred by the flight of desperate Afghan people.
Some 3 million Afghan refugees already reside in neighboring countries. The bulk of those are in Pakistan and Iran; about 2 million in Pakistan and some 1.5 million in Iran. As with its contributions to relief efforts overall, the United States has consistently been the largest donor to support those refugees. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the remarkable generosity of the neighboring countries in providing relief and refuge to so many Afghans for nearly two decades.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that as many as 1.5 million additional Afghans could seek to enter neighboring countries as a result of the current situation. It estimates that, of these, roughly 1 million Afghans could seek to enter Pakistan; 400,000, Iran; 50,000, Tajikistan, and 50,000, Turkmenistan. I need to stress that these are planning figures. At this time, the actual flow of new refugees is relatively small. UNHCR estimates that 20-30,000 refugees have entered Pakistan in the past two weeks, and has not reported any new refugee movements into Iran. Future flows will be affected by a number of factors, including whether the Taliban continues to limit the ability of people to leave Afghanistan, how bordering states view arriving refugees, how much relief can be delivered into and distributed within Afghanistan, and, of course, how the military activity unfolds -- not just against the terrorist networks but between the Northern Alliance forces and the Taliban.
As an official matter, all of Afghanistan's neighbors have closed their borders to refugee flows. However, both Pakistan and Iran are working with UNHCR to plan for refugee flows, including through the prepositioning of supplies, and campsite identification and preparation. Particularly given the large numbers of refugees they already host, the international community needs to assure Pakistan and Iran, and other neighboring countries, that the international community will help shoulder the economic costs incurred in providing assistance and protection.
This past weekend, the UN convened in Geneva a meeting of major donors, as well as Iran and Pakistan, to discuss the Afghan humanitarian situation. Attendees of this meeting expressed high praise to President Bush for his humanitarian initiative. The meeting strongly endorsed the view that we should make maximum efforts to provide assistance inside Afghanistan, so that people are not forced to leave in search of assistance. The meeting also endorsed contingency planning for refugee flows, and provided assurances to Pakistan and Iran of burden sharing to care for all new arrivals from Afghanistan. Overall, the donors pledged $608 million of humanitarian response, of which President Bush's announcement of $320 million represents over half.
The unambiguous message of the meeting was support for the Afghan people. That certainly represents the attitude and endeavors of the United States as well. We are not at war with the innocent people of Afghanistan, and we are doing all we can to ameliorate the conditions under which they have long been suffering. Our campaign against international terrorism is multi-faceted, comprising political, military, economic, and humanitarian aspects. The President's announcement last Thursday and our continuing efforts to assist the Afghan people demonstrate that our words are true harbingers of our actions
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