Wednesday, 7 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
82. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government position on closing the borders against Afghan refugees and their right to access to the support of United Nations agencies both within and outside Afghanistan. [27029/01]
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): The Government has repeatedly called, including at the UN Security Council, for the early reopening of Afghanistan's borders to refugees. We continue to call on the relevant countries and the international donor community to work together so that we can achieve this as part of our response to the evolving refugee situation. This objective is central to Ireland's efforts in support of an effective response to the humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan, including its impact on neighbouring countries. At UN level, the related issues of refugees and opening borders have been raised with both the Pakistani and Iranian Governments by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, during his recent working visit to their respective capitals.
Before the 11 September terrorist attacks on the US, there were already more than three million Afghan refugees in bordering countries, mainly Pakistan and Iran. The enormous movement of refugees which had been anticipated following the attacks has not yet materialised. Most persons displaced from their homes have, so far, stayed within the country. There are estimated to be 1.3 million people in this category of ‘internally displaced persons'. The UN and international aid agencies have identified their presence at 229 locations which are being mapped for humanitarian aid purposes. Latest UN estimates for the number of Afghans who have fled into neighbouring countries following 11 September stand at around 85,000 for Pakistan and 20,000 for Iran.
The UN High Commission for Refugees has to respond to both existing and potential refugee needs and is making the necessary preparations to cater for any worsening of the refugee situation. These preparations are being made in terms of providing secure, serviced accommodation in existing locations and of establishing additional refugee camps, as necessary. While some neighbouring countries favour the siting of camps just inside the Afghan border, UNHCR is opposed to this as it leaves refugees vulnerable to military recruitment, forced labour or other forms of exploitation. The Government strongly supports the UNHCR position and wishes to see all refugees allowed to exercise their rights freely, including the freedom to cross borders, in accordance with international humanitarian law. The £4 million, 5.08 million, provided by Ireland in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan this year is balanced in its delivery between those at risk within the country and those who are seeking protection in neighbouring states such as Pakistan and Iran. This is being provided through Irish NGOs such as Concern, Trócaire, GOAL and Christian Aid, and through the appropriate UN and International Red Cross and Crescent agencies who  have the necessary working access to get aid to those most in need.
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