UN chief lauds Pakistan’s ‘generosity’ at Afghan refugee summit

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the summit. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 18 February 2020

UN chief lauds Pakistan’s ‘generosity’ at Afghan refugee summit

  • Pakistan is the world’s second-largest host of refugees with over 2 million Afghans living in different parts of the country

ISLAMABAD: UN General-Secretary Antonio Guterres has urged the world to support Pakistan in its efforts to shelter Afghan refugees.

He made the comments during a UN conference, which started in Islamabad on Monday.

“I not only saw compassion in words, but in deeds,” Guterres said at the “40 years of Afghan Refugees Presence in Pakistan” summit, organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We must recognize that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to other national efforts,” Guterres said, as he acknowledged Islamabad’s efforts to provide access to education and health care to the refugee community, despite limited resources and international support. 

Pakistan is the world’s second-largest host of refugees with over 2 million Afghans living in different parts of the country since 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

“We have come together to recognize a remarkable story of solidarity and compassion ... it is important to do so because it is a story that spans over decades,” the UN chief said and observed that Pakistan’s compassion toward the displaced Afghans is “missing from much of the world.”

Top politicians and officials from 20 countries attended the conference, including UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, and Afghan vice presidents Yunus Qanuni and Sarwar Danish.

In his opening remarks, Grandi said that “for Afghans, the story of their exile has been a long and painful one” and it “will not be complete until solutions can be found back in their own country.”

Only 8,000 refugees were able to return home through the voluntary repatriation program, he said. “For some refugees, nonetheless, solutions can be possible, even in these difficult circumstances. And I commend the commitment of the government of Afghanistan to the return and reintegration of its nationals.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan wanted “honorable repatriation,” while it was doing its best to provide all the necessary facilities to the refugees as well as “the best-ever support” to the Afghan peace process.

In reference to comments by Danish, Afghanistan’s second vice president, who during the conference accused Pakistan of allowing insurgents to recruit fighters from Afghan refugee camps in the country, Khan said Pakistan is no longer a “safe haven” for militants.

“Whatever the situation might have been in the past, right now, I can tell you ... there is one thing we want: Peace in Afghanistan,” he said.


Jakarta imposes partial lockdown as virus cases surge

Updated 1 min 46 sec ago

Jakarta imposes partial lockdown as virus cases surge

  • Violators face heavy fines and up to a year in jail for breaking the new rules
  • Jakarta city data showed some 776 suspected and confirmed victims had been buried in local cemeteries
JAKARTA: Soldiers and police hit the streets of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta Friday to enforce its toughest social-distancing rules yet as coronavirus infections surge and critics warn of a looming public-health disaster.
Violators face heavy fines and up to a year in jail for breaking the new rules, which include a ban on gatherings of more than five people, limiting restaurants to online delivery orders and reducing public transport.
Motorbike taxis seen everywhere in the megacity of some 30 million were banned from picking up passengers and residents were ordered to stay home.
“I’ve been checking my smartphone all day but no orders so far,” said Embari, a ride-hailing driver who goes by one name.
“I know drivers can’t pick up passengers but I was hoping for some food delivery calls.”
Mosques and other houses of worship were ordered to shut for at least the next two weeks — after millions continued to attend Friday prayers in the Muslim majority nation, despite calls to worship at home.
President Joko Widodo declared a state of emergency last month as coronavirus deaths in the world’s fourth most populous country jumped.
But he resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown fearing a collapse in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, where tens of millions eke out a living on poorly-paid, informal jobs.
Indonesia’s government has faced heavy criticism over its handling of the crisis and questions about the true number of deaths.
Officially, 280 people have died of the respiratory illness with 3,293 confirmed cases as of Thursday in the archipelago of more than 260 million.
That is the highest death toll for an Asian nation outside China.
But testing rates are among the lowest in the world and there are fears the number of dead could be much higher.
Jakarta city data showed some 776 suspected and confirmed victims had been buried in local cemeteries under COVID-19 protocols requiring bodies to be wrapped in plastic and quickly buried.
That is more than five times the official 142 dead in Jakarta, the epicenter of the outbreak in Indonesia.
Officials have admitted data collection among different jurisdictions is patchy and incomplete.
“The Indonesian government needs to ramp up testing to know the true extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the country,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities should also uphold the right to information and provide accurate statistics to the public.”
Indonesia’s spy agency has projected some 95,000 infections by June.
A bleak assessment by the University of Indonesia’s public health department warned that the country could see a death toll of more than 240,000 if testing and quarantines are not ramped up.