Afghan Refugees

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd January 2003.

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Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West 11:30 am, 22nd January 2003

What assessment she has made of assistance required by refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

In 2002, 1.8 million refugees returned to Afghanistan, and more than 1 million are expected in 2003. They have come overwhelmingly from Pakistan and Iran. Each family receives help with transport costs and a little help to resettle from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. My Department is about to send a mission to review progress on the humanitarian situation.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concerns—[Interruption.]

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

Is the Secretary of State aware of concerns that have been expressed by Christian Aid among others that if the refugees do not receive continuing support they will be tempted to return to the camps in Iran and Pakistan? In that context, what action is she taking to persuade the international community to deal with the $43 million shortfall at the UNHCR and the underfunding of the World Food Programme?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I do not fully agree with my hon. Friend or Christian Aid, if that is what it is saying. In Afghanistan, 5 million people are dependent on food aid, as there has been a fifth year of drought in the south. The refugees need continuing support, but so too does a large part of the Afghan population. The biggest problems are achieving stability outside Kabul so that the economy can start running again and dealing with the drought. The World Food Programme needs more money than has been needed for many years. The UNHCR also needs some more resources, but it is slightly overstating its claimed shortage.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

As my right hon. Friend knows, the Select Committee on International Development is publishing its report on the reconstruction of Afghanistan on Thursday. Does she agree with us that one of the main causes of instability among refugees is the continuing lack of security in Afghanistan and that there can be no proper reconstruction unless we address that?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I agree with my hon. Friend. When the Taliban were overthrown, they were providing arms and money to warlords, who are now strong, so getting stability throughout the country is difficult. There are plans for regional security teams in the big cities, but it would have been desirable if that step had been taken earlier. This is the crunch for Afghanistan—if we cannot get order and security, we will not get economic development and people who are still desperately poor will not have a better future.