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President Bush is providing 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 in Afghanistan. As the President 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, on October 4th, announced a $320 million initiative to provide additional humanitarian assistance for Afghans -- for both those inside Afghanistan and for those who flee Taliban oppression 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. In working with neighboring countries on potential new refugee flows, we need to take into account the existing refugee situation. Over 3.5 million Afghan refugees already reside in neighboring countries. The bulk of those are in Pakistan which generously has taken in some 2 million refugees, and Iran, where some 1.5 million Afghan refugees reside. As with its contributions to relief efforts overall, the United States has consistently been the largest financial 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 Nigh Commissioner for Refugees originally prepared contingency plans for the arrival of as many as 1.5 million additional Afghans in the countries neighboring Afghanistan. Based on information available at the time of their original plan, UNHCR plans were based on an additional 1 million Afghans arriving in Pakistan; 400,000 in Iran; and 50,000 each in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Those were planning figures, and the actual flow of new refugees has been much smaller. Although population flows to Iran and Pakistan have increased recently, the overall number of new refugees to date, some 80,000 to 100,000, is significantly lower than originally anticipated. Possible reasons include: the international community's ability to deliver continued assistance inside Afghanistan; Taliban restrictions on male departures; the focused nature of the U.S. military campaign; and the fact that the borders of all neighboring countries are officially closed. There has been no significant population movement to the North, toward the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Each of these countries has closed its border to refugee flows, although Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have engaged in some contingency planning with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and have agreed to facilitate cross-border assistance to Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has agreed to the prepositioning of relief material at Termez, but is conditioning the opening of the border to relief activities on resolution of the security situation on the Afghan side of the border, which is currently occupied by the Taliban.
Iran also maintains a closed border, although reportedly a few thousand Afghans have entered Iran in the past several weeks. The Iranian Red Crescent Society has established two refugee camps inside Afghanistan, with about 8,000 Afghans there. Iran has done contingency planning with UNHCR for larger flows of refugees, and has identified some sites for refugee camps along its border with Afghanistan. Iran also is facilitating cross-border assistance into Afghanistan.
Pakistan officially maintains a closed border with Afghanistan, fearing that an open border and the prospect of relief inside Pakistan could attract hundreds of thousands of new refugees, with attendant security and economic implications. Pakistan has allowed some vulnerable groups to cross the border, and acknowledges that tens of thousands more have crossed unofficially. With Pakistan's authorization, UNHCR has established a transit center near the Quetta border crossing, where assistance can be provided to new arrivals. Pakistan has also identified sites where UNHCR can establish new refugee camps, although the site locations are in remote areas and security of humanitarian staff there will be a great concern. UNHCR has prepositioned substantial relief materials in Pakistan. Given the large numbers of refugees they already host, the international community needs to continue to assure Pakistan, Iran, and other neighboring countries that the international community will help shoulder the economic costs incurred in providing assistance and protection to Afghans who cross their borders. The extent of future refugee flows will be affected by the same factors that currently appear to be limiting outflows and, of course, how the military campaign unfolds -- not just ours against the terrorist networks but that by the Northern Alliance forces against the Taliban. We will continue to work with UNHCR and other relief organizations, and Pakistan and other neighboring countries, to prepare for possible increased refugee flows.
On October 5th, 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 praised President Bush's initiative and strongly endorsed the view that the international community 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 fox refugee flows, and provided assurances to Pakistan and Iran of burden sharing to care for all new arrivals. Total offers of humanitarian assistance from over 40 countries -- including President Bush's pledge of $320 million -- now total some $800 million.
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.
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