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Cablegate: Unhcr: Excom Cable #8: Meeting On Afghan Refugees

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: This cable provides a readout of an
October 7 meeting in Geneva on the situation of Afghan
refugees in Iraq and Pakistan. The meeting occurred, and the
cable was drafted, before the October earthquake in Kashmir.
At this time, it is still unclear what ramifications, if any,
that natural disaster will have on Pakistan's position with
regard to Afghan refugees -- or on UNHCR's refugee-focused
programs in Pakistan. Representatives from Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Iran, the U.S., other interested countries, UNHCR
and other international organizations met October 7 to
discuss ongoing efforts to care for Afghan refugees in Iran
and Pakistan and to facilitate their orderly and voluntary
return and reintegration. PRM Acting A/S Rich Greene praised
the generosity of host countries and urged continued
patience. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres
stressed the need for donors and international organizations
(IOs) to integrate refugee assistance with development goals.
The Iranian delegation announced it would offer work visas
for 200,000 Afghans and pledged to work closely with the
Afghan government. The Pakistani delegation gave a more
hard-line speech rejecting local integration as a durable
solution, although they evinced more flexibility in private
discussions. Pakistan is still negotiating with UNHCR
regarding refugee registration modalities. The meeting
served to mobilize donors and major humanitarian and
development agencies, especially UNHCR and UNDP, to stay
engaged. Participants agreed that a follow-on meeting should
occur next year only if tangible progress had been made on
development, reintegration, and registration. End summary.

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Meeting Goals and Attendance
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2. (U) PRM Acting Assistant Secretary Richard L. Greene
opened the Geneva consultations by highlighting the major
achievements in Afghanistan over the last four years: two
successful nationwide elections, significant improvements in
infrastructure and health, and the voluntary return of over
four million Afghan refugees. He then outlined the day,s
primary goals: (1) to maintain international support for the
continued repatriation and reintegration of Afghan refugees;
(2) to ensure the sustainability of returns by improving
conditions for returnees in Afghanistan; (3) to encourage
international support for development in refugee-impacted
areas of Pakistan; (4) to work toward normalizing population
movement in and out of Afghanistan; and (5) to support a
registration of Afghans currently living in Pakistan. He
both introduced and concluded his remarks by thanking the
refugee-hosting countries for their great sacrifices in
caring for millions of Afghan refugees for well over two
decades. He asked the countries, as well as the refugees
themselves, to maintain their patience, however. While the
pace of returns has been staggering -- the largest refugee
return in UNHCR history -- it will still take some time
before the situation is fully resolved. In the meantime, he
encouraged countries to continue to work with one another to
come to agreements on refugee support, repatriation,
registration, and movement.

3. (U) In his opening address, UN High Commissioner for
Refugees Antonio Guterres said a major goal for the following
months would be to effectively integrate refugees into
Afghanistan,s overall national development. In view of both
their numbers and importance, displaced people should be
taken into account within the so-called "Kabul Process" --
the successor to the "Bonn Process" for Afghanistan,s
development that concluded with the recent parliamentary
elections. In highlighting the points initially raised by
A/S Greene in his opening statement, HC Guterres said he
understood the challenge of integrating Afghans into
development proposals within Pakistan and Iran. (Note:
Despite recent polling showing that only a minority of
Afghans in Pakistan intend to repatriate in the near future,
the GoP insists that the 2.6 million Afghans currently on its
soil should return to Afghanistan. End note.) Guterres
stressed the importance of acknowledging the reality of
population movement, even if that reality appears
unpalatable. He cited the example of Geneva itself: although
Guterres,s native Portugal has not recently experienced
civil war, thousands of his fellow citizens currently reside
in the Swiss city. Planners must acknowledge the fact that
people migrate for multiple reasons, even long after the
conflicts that initially launched them have ended. The High
Commissioner concluded his remarks by thanking Iran and
Pakistan for their ongoing support of Afghan refugees, and by
acknowledging Afghanistan,s hard work to bring its citizens
4. (SBU) In discussions prior to the consultations, UNHCR
told PRM that a major purpose of the meetings was to
demonstrate to the governments of Pakistan and Iran that the
world remained engaged in the Afghan situation. UNHCR
believes this is important in order to ensure that the two
governments continue to cooperate with each other, as well as
Afghanistan and the world community. From this perspective,
the conference appeared to be a success.

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Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan
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5. (U) Following the introduction to the meetings by
co-chairs PRM and UNHCR, the floor was given to Afghanistan
and its two neighbors. The head of the Iranian delegation,
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gholam Ali Khoshroo began
by noting that more than 1.3 million Afghan refugees had
returned to their homeland from Iran since April of 2002.
While a further 200,000 returns had been predicted this year,
he acknowledged that the numbers had lagged (50,000 have
returned so far). Khoshroo applauded the work of the
International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the
International Labor Organization (ILO) in researching the
causes of migration and dislocation in South Asia. Their
work showed, he said, that most Afghans in Iran are now
economic migrants rather than refugees fleeing political or
natural disasters. Durable solutions must be found for true
refugees, and new modalities must be worked out to govern
economic migration. Khoshroo declared that the government of
Iran (GoI) will issue working visas to 200,000 Afghans, under
the condition that only the head of household may remain in
Iran, and other family members must return to Afghanistan.
In a short concluding statement later in the afternoon, the
Iranian delegation pledged to continue working with UNHCR,
its neighbors, and international donors to find solutions in
the best interests of the Afghans.

6. (SBU) According to a delegate who was sitting in the dais
with a direct view of the Iranian delegation, there appeared
to be some disagreement between the Iranians before Khoshroo
issued his concluding statement. The Iranian permanent
representative in Geneva exchanged some heated words with
Khoshroo then left the room while Khoshroo issued the brief
concluding statement. According to the UNHCR delegate, the
skirmish likely centered on how conciliatory Iran should be
in its closing statement. With a new government in office,
he said, the Iranians still appeared to be in the process of
sorting out their official policy. The permrep may have been
arguing for a firmer statement insisting that Afghans must
return to Iran, similar to the Pakistani concluding statement
(see below).

7. (U) The Afghan delegation was led by Minister for Refugees
and Repatriation Mohammad Azam Dadfar. (Note: Foreign
Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who was originally scheduled to
head the delegation, flew back to Kabul for a discussion of
NATO expansion in Afghanistan. End note.) Dadfar began his
remarks by noting Afghanistan,s recent accession to the 1951
Refugee Convention. He thanked his neighbors, the Iranians
and the Pakistanis, for their continued assistance in hosting
Afghan refugees, as well as the USG, UNHCR, and the European
Commission (EC) for planning and hosting the discussions.
Dadfar noted that real progress has been made in the last
several years: 4.25 million refugees had returned, and he
hoped to "eliminate the word IDP from Afghanistan,s
dictionary by the end of 2006." Minister Dadfar concluded by
emphasizing Afghanistan,s continued need for development
assistance, particularly to ensure the sustainability of
refugee returns. He strongly supported HC Guterres,s
contention that displaced populations must be made a major
plank of the Kabul Process.

8. (SBU) The head of the Pakistani delegation, Secretary
Sajid Hussain Chattha of the States and Frontiers Division
(SAFRON), emphasized the need for continued large-scale
repatriation and development of refugee-affected areas within
Pakistan. Unlike the February Afghan conference in Brussels
(reftel), where the Pakistani delegation accepted that
significant numbers of Afghans may stay in Pakistan for a
"temporary" period, Chattha in Geneva made no such statement.
This was especially notable in his blunt closing statement,
where he insisted that Pakistan was not prepared to accept a
long-term Afghan presence on its soil. Now is not the time,
he said, to discuss local integration; Pakistan has been
hosting its "brothers" for well over two decades, but the
Afghans remaining in Pakistan are now economic migrants, and
the time has come for them to return home. Chattha spoke of
the importance of providing development funding to
refugee-affected areas of Pakistan, and thanked UNHCR for its
work in conducting a needs assessment. But he did not
acknowledge a central premise of UNHCR in conducting the
assessment: that it would look at the needs of both Afghan
and Pakistani communities. Instead, Chattha spoke as if the
entire purpose was to assist a post-Afghan Pakistan.

9. (SBU) In a bilateral meeting with the USG delegation prior
to the start of the conference, Chattha appeared somewhat
less dogmatic, acknowledging that some Afghans would likely
remain in Pakistan past the end of the Tripartite Agreement.
In particular, he noted the longstanding historical linkages
among Pashtuns on both sides of the border, and said that
certain kinds of migration and labor movement were to be
expected. He welcomed the work being done by IOM to look
into possible future means of managing the migration. In
terms of numbers, however, he spoke in terms of "some
thousands" rather than the million or more Afghans recent
research suggests will likely seek to stay in Pakistan.

10. (SBU) Chattha also spoke of the GoP,s plans to conduct a
registration of Afghan refugees, as a follow-on to the census
completed earlier this year. The purpose of the registration
is to collect precise information on Afghans in Pakistan,
while providing Afghans with some legal document entitling
them to temporary employment and health care in Pakistan.
While UNHCR, the GoA, and the GoP all agree on the need for a
registration, UNHCR and the GoA disagree with Pakistan over
the appropriate validity period of the identity documents to
be provided to Afghans. The GoP insists the documents should
only have a two-year validity period -- i.e., through 2008,
assuming the registration occurs as planned in 2006. The GoA
insists on a five-year validity period, while UNHCR is
publicly calling for an indefinite validity period. In
private discussions after the conference ended, UNHCR
delegates told PRM that they are willing to accept a
five-year validity period, but are having no luck budging the
Pakistani position. UNHCR plans to draft an MOU to the GoP
pushing for a five-year validity period as a condition for
receiving UNHCR assistance in funding and planning the
registration. They expect the GoP to initially reject these
terms, and believe that the negotiations will ultimately have
to go to President Musharraf before a decision will be made.

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International organizations and donors
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11. (U) Following the statements of the three regional
countries, the floor was opened to the other delegations.
The first to speak was Heino Marius of the European
Commission, which had co-hosted the Brussels consultations in
February. Marius said that the EC is currently putting
together a plan for its 2007-2013 funding priorities that
would concentrate heavily on assistance in northern and
northeastern areas of Afghanistan where large numbers of
refugees had returned. Following the EC, most of the
delegations made brief statements outlining their previous
work in Afghanistan and committing to remain involved. Donor
countries included Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada,
Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands,
Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

12. (U) A number of international organizations also spoke at
the consultations. The World Bank,s intervention was most
notable for declining to support the refugee-affected areas
program being mooted by Pakistan and UNHCR. The World Bank
representative at the consultations, Joseph Ingram, said the
Bank fully supported the stabilization of Afghanistan and its
neighbors, but was looking to do so with alternative
livelihoods programs and its own development programs. While
Ingram said the World Bank in principle supports the
normalization of Afghan labor in Pakistan and Iran, setting
its parameters is the responsibility of the three countries
and bilateral donors.

13. (U) A more positive statement was delivered by James
Rawley of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
which, despite earlier concerns about working at
cross-purposes with UNHCR, pledged to collaborate closely
with its sister UN agency on a needs assessment for
refugee-affected areas in Pakistan. Other international
organizations speaking at the consultations included IOM,
ILO, and the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan
(UNAMA). Both IOM and ILO emphasized their work in
researching Afghan migration and labor patterns in
neighboring countries. (Note: These two organizations, along
with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) have
received funding from the EC to examine labor migration in
and around Afghanistan.) UNAMA was represented by Filippo
Grandi, in his last appearance in that organization before
beginning his new job as Deputy Commissioner General at the
United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). He fully
endorsed the goal of including displaced Afghans within the
overall development plans of the "Kabul Process."

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14. (U) Once the Tripartite Agreements between UNHCR,
Afghanistan, and Iran and Pakistan expire -- currently
scheduled for March and December, respectively, of 2006 --
the legal and logistical framework under which millions of
Afghans living outside of Afghanistan are currently regulated
will have to be reconsidered. The consultations in Geneva
represented an initial effort at coming to terms with several
basic issues that will have to be broached: under what
circumstances will Afghans be allowed to continue to reside
in Pakistan and Iran; under what circumstance and how will
they be able to cross borders; what assistance will be
provided for communities and areas long inhabited by
refugees; and, more generally, how will the international
community transition its assistance in South Asia from relief
to reconstruction? Several areas of agreement emerged from
the consultations. Assisted repatriation should remain the
preferred option for Afghans, and all stakeholders should
continue to facilitate their voluntary and gradual return to
Afghanistan. Development should be ramped up in Afghanistan,
especially in areas of high return, to ensure the
sustainability of continued refugee repatriation. Donors
should continue to support research exploring migration and
labor movement across Afghanistan,s borders so that
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran can agree on a suitable means
of regulating their shared borders. And the needs of
returning refugees must be a key element of the Kabul Process.

15. (SBU) From UNHCR,s and our perspective, the meeting
succeeded in demonstrating to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran
that the world remains engaged in the Afghan refugee issue.
Although Chattha bristled noticeably in his concluding
remarks at the idea -- put forward by several speakers at the
consultations -- that local integration in Pakistan will need
to be considered as a durable solution for some Afghans, all
three delegations made noticeable efforts to strike
conciliatory tones with one another. (This was probably due
in no small part to the fact that UNHCR helped draft the
remarks of both the Pakistani and Afghan delegations.) The
consultations left some issues unresolved, however. There
remains disagreement between UNHCR, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
over the validity period for a proposed registration of
Afghans in Pakistan; until the issue is resolved, UNHCR will
not seek any funding for the registration. And although
UNHCR and UNDP are collaborating on a needs assessment in
refugee-impacted areas of Pakistan, it is far from clear that
donors will provide significant support. From the Pakistani
perspective, the consultations may not have been entirely

16. (SBU) The USG should continue in the near term to support
gradual and voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees with
UNHCR assistance. The pace of returns continues to be the
highest in the world, with over 500,000 refugees expected to
return next year. In the meantime, refugee returns should be
made an integral part of the Kabul process: efforts should be
made to assess and address returnee needs in the areas of
shelter, health care, education, sanitation, and livelihoods.
In Pakistan, we should work with UNHCR to help convince the
GoP to accept a longer validity period for Afghan
registration documents. Working to include refugee-affected
areas within our development programs would help make this
longer period more palatable to the Pakistanis. The general
message for all parties should be that they must continue to
exercise patience with a steady, but gradual, pace of
returns. End Comment.

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