Cablegate: 60th Session of Unhcr Excom: Focus On Asia

DE RUEHGV #0905/01 2961532
R 231532Z OCT 09




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) Summary: UNHCR's operations in the Asia Region
received much attention during the 60th Session of the
Executive Committee (EXCOM) from September 28 to October 2.
High Commissioner Guterres described UNHCR's efforts to
provide assistance to large numbers of refugees and
internally displaced persons in Afghanistan and Pakistan and
how UNHCR is balancing security concerns for its staff in
this region with its operational objectives. PRM A/S
Schwartz, Head of the US Del, met with Pakistan and
Afghanistan to encourage them to allow full access for
humanitarian organizations to vulnerable populations and to
promote greater cooperation on refugee returns to Afghanistan
and cross-border movements. Discussions between the U.S. del
and Thailand focused on plans to work more closely with IOM
on the return of Lao Hmong from Petchabun camp to Laos.
Unfortunately, the success achieved in the resettlement of
Bhutanese refugees from Nepal to the U.S. and other countries
has not produced greater cooperation between Nepal and Bhutan
on promoting the return of Bhutanese who wish to return to
their homes in Bhutan. The U.S. delegation was not able to
meet Minister Samarasinghe to discuss the plight of IDPs
still held in camps in Sri Lanka, but UNHCR and others
continue to push the government to allow for greater freedom
of movement of these persons. End Summary.

2. (U) In Antonio Guterres' opening statement to the 60th
Session of the Executive Committee (EXCOM) of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he listed the
"shrinking" humanitarian space and blurring of "traditional
distinctions" between civilian and military actors as the
first of four major challenges for UNHCR. To highlight his
point, he referred to the three UNHCR staff members who had
been killed in a period of just six months in Pakistan.
(Note: UNHCR's update on its operations in Asia also mentions
that a UNHCR implementing partner in Afghanistan had also
lost three staff members. End note.) Gutteres also stated
that Asia presents UNHCR with several situations under its
third major challenge, i.e. to find durable solutions in
protracted refugee situations. This includes developing
strategies for refugee self-reliance in Bangladesh and
Malaysia, providing greater support to refugee hosting areas
in Pakistan, and introducing the strategic use of
resettlement in Nepal. The U.S. delegation, led by Assistant
Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), Eric
Schwartz, met with delegations from Afghanistan, Pakistan,
and Thailand, and met with representatives from Bhutan and
Nepal to discuss a wide range of issues in this region. A/S
Schwartz also met with ICRC President Jacob Kellenberger on
its activities in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.


3. (SBU) A/S Schwartz met with Mr. Mohammad Raffat Pasha,
Secretary of Pakistan's Ministry of States and Frontier
Regions to discuss ongoing assistance to Afghan refugees and
internally displaced persons (IDPs). Schwartz thanked the
Government of Pakistan for its decision to extend Proof of
Registration (POR) status for Afghan refugees through 2012
and stressed the need for Pakistan to allow humanitarian
agencies full access to support the voluntary return of IDPs
from the conflict in Swat and the neighboring districts to
North and South Waziristan.

4. (SBU) Secretary Pasha said that more than 2 million
persons had fled the fighting in NWFP and FATA regions, but
that the majority have now returned. He said that returnees
face significant challenges in rebuilding homes and
businesses, but noted that a significant number still remain
displaced in the region. He confirmed that Pakistan expects
another outflow of up to 80,000 IDPs when the government
launches its military offensive in Waziristan. He said that
UN agencies cannot currently access these areas but that the
government planned to establish camps if and when necessary.

5. (SBU) On the Afghan refugees, Pasha said that voluntary
repatriation to Afghanistan has slowed considerably and
wondered aloud how long Pakistan would have to host the
remaining two to three million refugees. He added that his

GENEVA 00000905 002 OF 003

Ministry supported the three-year extension of the POR status
to 2012, but that the Ministry of Interior was not in favor
of this extension. He requested the U.S. to work closely
with the government of Afghanistan to make return a priority
again. A/S Schwartz and Pasha agreed that more could be done
to promote employment opportunities for returnees inside
Afghanistan. Pasha also requested U.S. assistance to help
with border management issues, noting that some 18,000
Afghans are crossing the border with Pakistan on a daily
basis. Pakistan would like to regularize this movement
similar to a system it had in 1979 to issue travel documents.
He confirmed that Pakistan had contacted the U.S. Embassy in
Islamabad on this question. A/S Schwartz agreed to follow-up
on these issues.

6. (SBU) In a separate meeting at ICRC, President
Kellenberger said that in Pakistan ICRC is having a difficult
time explaining to certain GOP branches ICRC's neutral
position in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.. He
said that ICRC does not have access to what it believes to be
some 4,000 Taliban detainees held by Pakistan in Peshawar and
Islamabad. He said that ICRC is currently discussing with
Pakistan the importance of ICRC being able to access these
detainees under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which
ICRC views as the applicable law in the ongoing conflict
against the Taliban in Pakistan.

Side-Event on Pakistan

7. (U) Secretary Pasha, together with Kasidis Rochanakorn,
UNHCR Director for Asia and the Pacific, co-hosted a side
event called, "The Afghan Refugee Operation and the
Humanitarian Situation in Pakistan." Rochanakorn described
UNHCR's efforts to assist IDPs from Swat, Buner, and Dir, and
outlined UNHCR's assistance to ongoing return activities. He
said that military operations in South Waziristan will likely
result in fewer IDPs, but will occur in areas of more
restricted access. He affirmed that at present there are no
major gaps in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

8. (U) Secretary Pasha's presentation focused mostly on
Pakistan's refugee assistance efforts and he stated in his
introduction that he had asked the U.S. during his bilateral
negotiations to do more to convince Afghanistan to make
returns a priority. During the question and answer session,
several participants asked about the IDP situation in Swat
and the expected Pakistani military offensive in South
Waziristan. Pasha said that Pakistan will conduct military
actions against "extremists" in South Waziristan this fall.
He said that although the number of IDPs resulting from this
operation is likely to be much smaller than those from NWFP
and FATA, their displacement is likely to last much longer,
owing to the difficult access in this region of the country
for both humanitarian organizations and government entities.


9. (SBU) A/S Schwartz pressed Abdul Karim Barahawi, Minister
of Refugees and Repatriation in Afghanistan, on the issue of
refugee returns from Pakistan, explaining that the government
of Afghanistan (GOA) needed to send a clear signal that
returns are still a priority for Pakistan. Barahawi
confirmed that returns from Pakistan had declined from a high
of 5 million between 2002-2003 to just over 50,000 so far in
2009, but noted two main factors that hindered greater
numbers from returning, i.e., an uncertain security
environment and a lack of jobs and access to social services.
Barahawi lamented that while it was certainly possible for
the government to provide new programming to address the
former, achieving a stable security environment would be much
more difficult.

10. (SBU) A/S Schwartz raised the issue of the Land
Allocation Schemes (LAS), explaining that many donors are
reluctant to contribute to these schemes due to a lack of
services available beyond basic construction and encouraged
the GOA to focus on bringing the current sites up to a higher
standard before moving to set up new ones. Barahawi
confirmed that the GOA is currently only implementing 15 out
of 58 planned LAS due to a shortage of budgetary resources
and overall security concerns in many areas. However, he

GENEVA 00000905 003 OF 003

noted that the GOA also needed to provide services in areas
where returnees are going, and that in some cases this was in
areas outside of the current LAS sites. Barahawi conveyed
his frustration that tripartite talks with Iran and UNHCR
seem stalled and was not optimistic that they would be held


11. (SBU) During his discussions with Sihasak
Phumangketkeow, Ambassador of Thailand to the UN Missions,
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Margaret Pollack
encouraged Thailand to finalize its operational agreement
with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on
the voluntary return of Hmong refugees to Laos and to either
release or improve conditions for Hmong refugees currently in
the Nong Khai detention facility. The Thai delegation
confirmed discussions with the government of Laos on the
return of Hmong refugees from the Petchabun facility, and
noted that it was understood between the two governments that
IOM's participation would end at the Thai border. A/DAS
Pollack and RMA Counselor Peter Mulrean stressed that IOM
involvement in the return process on the Laos side would
assure the voluntary nature of the movement, and perhaps send
a positive signal to other Hmong refugees that return to Laos
is safe. Nevertheless, the Thai delegation expressed its
satisfaction that returnees would be well treated and
assisted by the Laotian authorities, noting that previous
returns had occurred without incident inside Laos.

Other Operations: Sri Lanka, Nepal-Bhutan

12. (SBU) The U.S. delegation was unable to hold a bilateral
meeting with the Sri Lanka delegation as Minister Mahinda
Samarasinghe from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Disaster
Management and Human Rights departed Geneva on the first day
of the EXCOM after attending one week of discussions at the
Human Rights Council. Although HC Guterres' opening
statement was silent on the situation in Sri Lanka, UNHCR's
update on its Asia operations, however, did convey UNHCR's
position that conditions for the some 271,000 IDPs still
residing in camps in the north of the country should be
improved, including allowing for the freedom of movement and
family reunification, and that UNHCR is calling for direct
access to return areas both before and after return
movements. Minister Samarasinghe's statement to the plenary
noted Walter Kalin's recent to Sri Lanka in positive terms
and explained that Sri Lanka has been very careful about
releasing IDPs because that some former LTTE elements hiding
within the IDP population could "cause destabilization and
chaos amongst civilians elsewhere in the country" if
released. He also noted the importance of demining in areas
of return prior to the IDPs going home, but stated that more
than 23,000 persons had already returned/or resettled to
Jaffna, Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Vavuniya, and Mannar

13. (SBU) In a separate meeting, ICRC President Kellenberger
told A/S Schwartz that ICRC was very frustrated with its
current relationship with the government of Sri Lanka, but
expected to know more about its operational role in 2010 by
mid-October. Kellenberger said he had explained to the Sri
Lankan Minster of Foreign Affairs during his last visit to
Colombo that ICRC would only remain in Sri Lanka it if were
able to plan and operate according to its own, independent
needs assessments.

14. (SBU) UNHCR reported that resettlement of Bhutanese
refugees from Nepal continues to progress with some 18,000
persons having already departed to third countries.
Nevertheless, the question of Bhutan allowing some of the
camp residents to return to Bhutan in the immediate future
seems to still sit on the back burner. The Ambassadors of
Bhutan and Nepal continue to state that return should be
discussed in bilateral talks, yet acknowledge that these do
not seem to be likely, and continue to point us either to the
Bhutanese embassy in New Delhi or to lay the blame at each
others doorstep for the delays on this issue.

© Scoop Media

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