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Cablegate: Update On Afghan Refugees, Deportees, and Squatters

VZCZCXRO7941
OO RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #1744/01 1441404
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 241404Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8306
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASH DC PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY 0031
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4110
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 6720

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 KABUL 001744

SIPDIS
C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (GENEVA ADDED)

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO DAS GASTRIGHT, SCA/A
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR HARRIMAN
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CFC-A, CG CJTF-76 POLAD
GENEVA FOR PRM M. STORELLA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON AFGHAN REFUGEES, DEPORTEES, AND SQUATTERS

REF: A. KABUL 1594
B. KABUL 1605

KABUL 00001744 001.3 OF 005


-------
Summary
-------

1. Recent developments relating to three distinct
segments of the wave of Afghan "returnees" - refugees
from Pakistan, deported irregular migrants from Iran,
and Kuchi squatters near Pol-i-Charki - have renewed
focus on refugee/displaced persons issues. Over
200,000 refugees have returned from Pakistan in 2007,
with over half returning to Nangarhar. Approximately
62,000 Afghans have been deported from Iran.
International Organization on Migration (IOM) reports
that the government and local communities are
providing adequate support for those passing through
the transit centers near the Iranian border, but also
expresses concern regarding the implications of the
significant number of single men returning to Nimruz
and Farah provinces. Finally, 350 Kuchi families are
squatting in the Kabul area, claiming right to the
land. President Karzai has asked Second Vice
President Khalili to lead GoA efforts to address the
issues relating to the returnees from Iran and
Pakistan. In a May 24th meeting convened by Karzai,
Khalili highlighted the importance of providing
returnees with reintegration assistance. The
Ambassador highlighted the significant U.S. assistance
already being provided and welcomed UNAMA's
announcement of a special appeal for assistance to
deal with the recent wave of returns. Other donors
also expressed support. End Summary.

----------
Background
----------

2. Approximately 5 million Afghans have voluntarily
returned since 2002, contributing to the explosive
population growth of Kabul and other cities. A
comparable number still reside in Iran and Pakistan.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
estimates that there are as many as one million
irregular Afghan migrants and 920,000 registered
refugees in Iran. There are an estimated 2.6 million
Afghan refugees in Pakistan, 2.1 million of whom are
registered. Most will return to their own houses or
stay with family or friends (Nangarhar, Farah, Nimruz,
Herat, Ghazni, and Kandahar have seen the most
population growth due to recent returnees), although
some will end up moving on to Kabul or other cities
seeking job opportunities and a relatively stable
security situation.

--------------------
Refugee Repatriation
--------------------

3. Both Iran and Pakistan have signed separate
trilateral agreements on refugees with Afghanistan and
UNHCR. These agreements, which apply to registered
refugees, aim to return refugees in a gradual and
dignified manner, taking into account the absorptive
capacity of GoA. In February, the Pak-Afghan-UNHCR
Trilateral Commission decided to close four refugee
camps in Pakistan, two in NWFP and two in Baluchistan.
Two camps are to be closed by June 15, the second set
by August 31. We support the program as part of a
larger strategy to remove targets of opportunity for
Taliban recruitment and source of contention between
Kabul and Islamabad. The refugees have the option of
returning to Afghanistan or relocating to other camps
(in northern NWFP, inaccessible in the winter). 80%

KABUL 00001744 002.4 OF 005


of registered refugees in Pakistan (many of whom have
been there for decades) express reluctance to return
to Afghanistan due to insecurity, lack of employment,
and relative lack of comparable social services,
including health care and education.

4. UNHCR's 2007 voluntary repatriation program is
being conducted in two phases. The first phase, from
March 1 to April 15, gave undocumented Afghans the
opportunity to leave Pakistan with UNHCR assistance.
206,112 took advantage of the offer, many motivated by
the threat of arrest, detention, and deportation.
(Note: There are some indications that many of these
"returnees" are not genuine refugees but regular
border-crossers eager to take advantage of a generous
UNHCR repatriation package. The 2007 UNHCR
repatriation package is $100 per returnee verses an
average of $23 per returnee in 2006. On average,
25,000 cross the border daily, often without
documentation. End Note.) 78% of these returnees
went to eastern provinces; 145,933 returned to
Nangarhar. The second phase for registered refugees
began on April 19 and will run through November.
10,000 have returned thus far, but the rate is
expected to increase. Much will depend upon the
evolving security situation in the southern and
southeastern provinces.

--------------------------------------------
Deportees from Iran: Just the Opening Salvo?
--------------------------------------------

5. Following Teheran's announcement on January 21 that
it intended to "regularize" illegal Afghans living in
Iran -- and unproductive negotiations with the GOA,
Iran's Disciplinary and Special Forces began forcibly
removing Afghans on April 21. An estimated 62,108
Afghans have been forcibly deported. IOM and UNHCR
stress that, with very few exceptions, these returnees
are not refugees, but irregular migrants, some who
have been living in Iran for years. Returnees are
transiting through two primary border crossings -
Zaranj in Nimruz (37,778 crossed, mostly families) and
Islam Qala in Herat (24,330 crossed, mostly single
males). In Nimruz, returnees are directed toward a
transit center, where twenty tents, drinking water,
food, and medical care are available. IOM reports
that the conditions in the centers are adequate, due
to support from ministries, local communities, and the
Red Crescent Society. The deportees can stay in the
center for up to 48 hours and then will return to
their home provinces, most via private truck. The
majority of deportees are from Farah, which has
received at least 1,674 families, with the remainder
from Nimruz and Herat. IOM notes it is clear that
these very poor provinces do not have the capacity to
absorb the deportees and provide even minimal
services. There is deep concern about the significant
number of unemployed and likely disaffected young men
being returned to this border region. The problem
will intensify if Iran continues to oust irregular
migrants and repatriate one million Afghans by March
2008, which is its stated goal. Voluntary
repatriations from Iran have been very low (1,262
since March).

---------------------------------------------
Kuchi Squatters in Kabul: Setting a Dangerous
Precedent?
---------------------------------------------

6. According to a MoRR and UNHCR assessment team
(corroborated by a CSTC-A/MoD team), around 350 Kuchi
families of the Ahmad Zai tribe returned from Pakistan
on April 27 and settled in the Butkhak area, near Pol-

KABUL 00001744 003 OF 005


i-Charki. Their representative, Haji Munjai, who is
well-connected to a number of GoA ministers (including
General Wardak, which may explain MoD involvement) and
who has been based in this area for nearly two years,
reportedly received assurances from former Minister
Akbar that MoRR would provide them with water if they
returned. The tribe then moved to the Butkhak area of
Kabul, claiming right to the land (they have no
documentation). (Comment: Land use disputes between
Afghan communities and the traditionally nomadic
Kuchi are not infrequent. End Comment.) MoRR has
been providing two or three tankers of water to the
refugees each day, but hesitated in providing other
assistance, concerned about establishing a permanent
illegal camp and encouraging similar squatting. On
May 21, Minister Wardak nevertheless directed delivery
of tents, blankets, and additional water; it is
unclear whether he consulted MoRR or POA. Other
reports, which UNHCR and MoRR deny, have suggested
that seven refugees have died. The UN has
unofficially adopted a "steer clear" attitude, citing
political sensitivities of supporting one ethnic
group's claim to a particular area. The group there
now says it intends to stay, and the number of Kuchi
and other refugees could easily grow to 10-20,000
persons this summer. UNAMA is convening a meeting of
interested parties with the National Emergency
Commission on May 27 and a meeting with the Governor
of Kabul on Monday, May 28 to discuss the status of
these families.

-------------------------
Reintegration and Funding
-------------------------

7. A main element of MoRR's reintegration effort for
returnees (focusing on those from Pakistan) has been a
nation-wide land distribution plan for returnees,
which has been hampered by limited infrastructure and
resources. UNHCR and donor nations, including the
U.S. (through PRM), established a pilot project
focused on five provinces (Nangarhar, Herat, Logar,
Baghlan, and Ghazni) to improve land distribution
sites and basic infrastructure. In Nangarhar, there
is one land distribution site for the province, which
is located 35 km outside of Jalalabad. There are
8,000 plots of land, but more than 40,000 have applied
for these limited resources. Approximately 1,000
families are living at the distribution center;
shelter and water are being provided by donor nations,
including the U.S.

8. Anticipating emerging refugee/IDP needs, Congress
allocated supplemental funding of $16 million in
Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) funds and an
estimated $18 million from the International Disaster
and Famine Assistance (IDFA) for Afghanistan. These
funds may be used for shelter, fuel, and other
necessities, including water and sanitation, health
care, roads, livelihoods, education and training, and
capacity building within the ministries charged with
reintegration and relevant development. Funds will be
used "in and around Kabul," where many IDPs may
eventually settle, as well as other provinces such as
Nangarhar and Kandahar, where many returnees are
expected to go initially. These funds have some
degree of inherent flexibility so that assistance can
be tailored to the changing needs on the ground as the
situation evolves. A 3-person IFDA team will arrive
in Kabul in early June to work with the GOA, UNHCR,
donors, and NGOs to develop a strategy to meet the
needs of returnees and IDPs in the short, medium, and
long-term.

--------------------------------------

KABUL 00001744 004.2 OF 005


President Karzai Calls Refugee Meeting
--------------------------------------

9. President Karzai convened the diplomatic corps on
May 24 to announce the GOA's determination to address
the problem of the large number of Afghans returning
from Pakistan (mostly as refugees) and Iran (mostly as
deported illegal workers) and underline Afghanistan's
urgent need for support. The President said he had
asked Second Vice President Khalili to lead the GOA's
efforts. Minister of Refugee Affairs Akbar (who
remains in office despite parliament's no-confidence
vote against him) spoke briefly. Khalili, who led
most of the discussion, claimed that Afghanistan's
"enemies" were trying to use refugees and deportations
to create instability and political difficulties for
the GOA. He underlined the importance of providing
the support necessary to allow the returnees to
reintegrate. Priorities must be shelter and
employment.

10. Karzai told the ambassadors that he had sent a
letter to President Ahmadinejad asking for a pause in
the deportations from Iran. In the meantime, an
Afghan delegation was traveling to Teheran in an
attempt to reach agreement on a more coordinated
program for the return of the irregular Afghans that
Iran is determined to return.

11. Deputy SRSG Chris Alexander provided a summary of
UNHCR IOM, and WFP efforts to provide assistance
particularly to the Afghans being deported from Iran.
Alexander emphasized that the Trilateral (GOA, GOI,
UNHCR) mechanism was not an adequate mechanism for
dealing with the problem of the deported irregular
Afghans, as this population is not covered by the
agreement. He described Iran's actions as not meeting
acceptable humanitarian standards, and commented that
the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission might
be able to play a role. Alexander noted the work
being done by the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry
of Rural Rehabilitation and Development to address the
needs of the returnees and announced that Geneva will
be sending out an appeal for international support.

12. The Ambassador congratulated the GOA for
mobilizing to deal with the recent wave of returns
and welcomed the announcement the UN would be
making an appeal for multinational support. He said
the U.S. would be prepared to response to such an
appeal.

13. Other Ambassadors expressed their support. The
French Ambassador volunteered that he would be
reporting immediately ForMin Kouchner, whom he
indicated is a close friend of Karzai. Saudi Arabia
was optimistic about providing assistance, as was
Canada, especially for Kanadahar. The Chinese would
check with Beijing. Others present were Norway,
Japan, and Spain, as well as UNHCR and IOM.

-------
Comment
-------

14. The GOA will need to work closely with
UNHCR and IOM to develop and implement a comprehensive
reintegration plan that can deal both with the recent
influx of returns from Iran as well as the long-
anticipated returns from Pakistan. Given the
political beating the Ministry of Refugees has
received over its failure to prevent the Iranian
deportations, the GOA is clearly trying to take a more
proactive approach to the issue. As made clear in the
meeting with ambassadors, this includes appeals for

KABUL 00001744 005.2 OF 005


increased international assistance.
WOOD

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