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Cablegate: Afghanistan's Refugee Absorption Reaches Saturation

VZCZCXRO2880
RR RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #1493/01 1710646
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 190646Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4429
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 001493

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, PRM
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CG CJTF-82, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREF PGOV PREL PK IR AF
SUBJECT: Afghanistan's Refugee Absorption Reaches Saturation

1. (SBU) Summary: Since January 1 of this year, 143,737 Afghan
refugees - the vast majority from Pakistan - have repatriated to
Afghanistan with assistance from the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While the numbers are relatively
low compared to recent years, Afghanistan's ability to absorb more
refugees is already strained. Meanwhile, visiting Pakistani
ministers are stressing Afghanistan's "obligation" to take back its
refugees by December 31, 2009. As that date approaches, we expect
UNHCR Kabul to try to push back in indirect ways, including through
the November 2008 Return and Reintegration Conference in Kabul. End
summary.

Pakistan Increasing "Refugees Out By 2009" Drumbeat
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Visiting Pakistani Advisor to the Prime Minister on
Interior Affairs and Narcotics Control Rehman Malik told President
Karzai June 8 that Afghanistan is obliged to accept the return of
all Afghan refugees by December 31, 2009. According to UNHCR, Malik
was overstating his case - Pakistan's timetable is still not
formally accepted by UNHCR Kabul or the Afghan Ministry of Refugees
and Repatriation (MORR) - but President Karzai did not push back.
Afghan Foreign Minister Spanta, when meeting with visiting Pakistani
Foreign Minister Qureshi two days earlier, only reminded Qureshi
that Pakistan's repatriation of refugees should be gradual,
voluntary, and conscious of Afghanistan's capacity to resettle
returnees.

3. (SBU) Any appearance of tacit consent or acquiescence to the
2009 deadline by IRoA senior-level officials undermines UNHCR and
MORR's attempts to keep the issue alive in the Afghan/Pak/UNHCR
Tripartite Commission context. Although the Tripartite Memorandum
of Agreement establishes the 2009 expiration of Pakistan's Proof of
Registration (POR) cards, the POR card expiration deadline is
referred to as "renewable," and UNHCR Kabul and MORR Minister Sheer
Mohammad Etibari continue to insist that the card expiration date
and the repatriation deadline are not linked. According to UNHCR,
Pakistani refugee officials have admitted privately that Afghans are
likely to remain in Pakistan after 2009. UNHCR and Minister Etibari
will maintain their position that the 2009 repatriation deadline is
not agreed to and press Pakistan in the Tripartite Commission
meetings to extend the POR card deadline and accept a more realistic
repatriation timeline. Their current goal is to extend the POR
expiration date until 2012, when Afghanistan's Afghan National
Development Strategy (ANDS) will be implemented, and agree to a more
realistic figure of one million Afghans returning over five years.


UNHCR Pursuing "Predictability of Staying" Along
With Repatriation Strategy
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (SBU) While visiting Pakistani ministers beat the repatriation
drum in Afghanistan, UNHCR is quietly seeking compromises with both
Pakistan and Iran that would give refugees "predictability of
staying." Since UNHCR Kabul claims that legal integration, i.e.,
citizenship or permanent residency, has been a political non-starter
with both countries, predictability must be achieved through
indirect, incremental measures. These measures would boost funding
and access to existing education and health programs for both
refugees and hosting communities, and temporary residence status
would be extended for longer periods, such as the three-year POR
validity in Pakistan. Predictability of residency is particularly
critical in Iran, where the recently extended Amayesh III refugee
registration process only provides residency status for six months.
Refugees there are constantly in limbo and unable to plan their
lives for more than a few months at a time, obviously preventing
full integration into the labor market and educational networks.

Fall 2008 Conference on Refugee Return and
Reintegration
------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) UNHCR hopes the fall 2008 Conference will bring a dose of
reality to the refugee arena and move the debate away from
Pakistan's unilateral plan of "engineered return," i.e., 800,000
refugees returning each year between 2007 and 2009. The conference
was proposed by the IROA and endorsed by the Joint Coordinating and
Monitoring Board VI last year and will be co-hosted by Foreign

KABUL 00001493 002 OF 003


Minister Spanta and UN High Commissioner Guterres this November in
Kabul. The main objectives will be to develop a rational policy
among Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and donors on how to successfully
return and reintegrate a more realistic number of refugees in light
of Afghanistan's limited absorption capacity. The Afghan government
will also present the five-year reintegration strategy that is being
developed and costed out now through the ANDS.

6. (SBU) UNHCR will also have to guard against MORR's attempts to
grab donor resources. MORR has neither the will nor capacity to use
resources in an effective or transparent manner, and the ongoing
UNHCR-led ministry reform process has still not weeded out corrupt
elements inside the ministry. UNHCR will instead channel donor
funds to subject-matter experts, such as the Ministries of
Education, Rural Development, or Water, to create schools, clinics,
or water points in areas of high return. It is unclear if donors
will ante up, however. Pakistan pledged $20 million at the June 12
Paris Conference for refugee repatriation, and Iran said it would
provide a $300 million loan to Afghanistan over three years,
presumably for refugee assistance. Other donors may be tapped out as
well after the large contributions made in Paris.

Meanwhile, Squatter Camps Develop in Nangarhar
And Laghman
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (SBU) As the political posturing continues and the conference
planning begins, refugee squatter communities are starting to stack
up. At least 69 percent of all 2008 returns so far have been from
Jalozai camp, and most families are returning to Nangarhar, Kunar,
and Laghman provinces, with substantial return to Kabul province and
the north. Six informal refugee settlements have mushroomed in
Nangarhar and Laghman, with refugees claiming they cannot return to
their places of origin (many in Kunar) due to landlessness, tribal
conflicts, insecurity from anti-government elements, personal
enmity, land disputes, and limited socio-economic opportunities.
Some refugees have been moved to marginal areas, such as the
Mehterlam Desert in Laghman or Chamtala Desert in Nangarhar, where
they eke out a precarious existence, even with substantial
humanitarian support.

8. (SBU) The draw for Nangarhar is most likely the job
opportunities in Jalalabad city, the biggest commercial center in
the east. A group of 16 Nuristani families have reportedly opted to
stay in Nangarhar and make a fresh start rather than scratching out
a living in Nuristan in subsistence agriculture. But many 2005
returnees from Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA)
still have not integrated; they live in temporary settlements, such
as Hersashahi in Nangarhar, where the government wants the land for
industrial purposes but the people claim they have nowhere to go.
These returnees have been unable to reintegrate into the social and
economic networks in either their province of origin or their
adopted provinces. New returnees are following the same pattern by
congregating in squalid temporary settlements, often in direct
conflict with landowners, local government, and PRT-funded project
implementers. Even though land was set aside in Kunar province for
Jalozai returnees, they refuse to go. Conditions in the temporary
settlements are often grim. Some Jalozai families in the north have
no assistance and are living in a "buzkashi" (traditional Afghan
horse polo-like game) field without even tent shelters or water.
Others are surviving only through fragile and temporary assistance.
With summer's extreme heat, the ongoing drought, and food price
increases, this situation is unlikely to improve soon.

Who is Helping, and How?
------------------------

9. (SBU) The international community, including PRM, is providing
assistance through new or existing water, health, and education
projects. The World Food Program is providing food for vulnerable
families in the Mehterlam Desert, UNICEF is tankering in water to
many settlements, UNICEF and a Danish aid organization are digging
wells, and IOM, UNICEF, and UNHCR are distributing non-food items.
A PRM-funded IMC clinic is serving 450 Kunari families in a new
settlement near Tangi, Nangarhar. The Afghan government is also
stepping up its efforts, with the Department of Public Health
staffing some mobile clinics (with the support of WHO and UNHCR),
the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development providing water
and creating water points, and the relevant Departments of Refugees

KABUL 00001493 003 OF 003


and Repatriation interceding with communities and trying to match
resources with their needs. While these efforts are helpful, they
cannot address the long-term reintegration needs of livelihoods,
education, and security that will dictate whether these recent
returnees stay in Afghanistan or go back to Pakistan or Iran in
search, again, of a better life.

DELL

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