UNHCR chief visits southern Afghan city, pays respect to slain colleagues

News Stories, 9 November 2011

© UNHCR/M.Durrani
High Commissioner Guterres visits the damaged UNHCR office in Kandahar.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, November 9 (UNHCR) UNHCR chief António Guterres visited the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar earlier today and paid his respects to three colleagues killed there last week during an attack.

Guterres also extended condolences to the families of the slain men, Salah Mohammad, 39, Abdul Shakoor, 57, and 31-year-old Nasratallah. The three Afghan nationals died and two staff were injured in the October 31 attack.

Touring the damaged office compound, the High Commissioner said, "We are facing a tragedy for UNHCR and for the families of our dead and wounded colleagues." But he added that the refugee agency was "committed to continuing to help Afghan people who need our assistance."

An investigation into last week's attack is under way. The High Commissioner, who is on a two-day trip to Afghanistan, is expected to discuss security concerns with Afghanistan's First Vice-President Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

"UNHCR has a strictly humanitarian and non-political mandate; it is here to help Afghan refugees and also Afghans who have been internally displaced within their own country," the High Commissioner stressed.

In a special message to staff from Kabul, Guterres also praised the courage and determination of UNHCR staff in Kandahar. "Even in these very difficult circumstances, there was no interruption in UNHCR's operations, and support to our beneficiaries was fully maintained," he said.

"Everybody is firmly committed to UNHCR's mandate, to the benefit of the people we care for, and to the preservation of the humanitarian values of independence, impartiality and neutrality," added Guterres.

UNHCR has been working in Afghanistan since the 1980s, and over this period it has facilitated the return of millions of refugees and assisted other forcibly displaced people inside Afghanistan. Since 2002, more than 5.7 million Afghan refugees have voluntarily returned home mainly from Iran and Afghanistan. UNHCR assisted 4.6 million of these returnees to repatriate.

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With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

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Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

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