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

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the summit. (Reuters)
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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.


Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

Updated 01 April 2020

Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

  • Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown
  • Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science

WASHINGTON: The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen Wednesday despite unprecedented lockdowns, as the head of the United Nations sounded the alarm on what he said was humanity’s worst crisis since World War II.
The warning came as Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a “very painful” few weeks after the United States registered its deadliest 24 hours of the crisis.
Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown as governments struggle to halt the spread of a disease that has now infected more than 850,000 people.
Well over 40,000 are known to have died, half of them in Italy and Spain, but the death toll continues to rise with new records being logged daily in the US.
“This is going to be a very painful — a very, very painful — two weeks,” Trump said, describing the pandemic as “a plague.”
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”
America’s outbreak has mushroomed rapidly. There are now around 190,000 known cases — a figure that has doubled in just five days.
On Tuesday, a record 865 people died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, taking the national toll so far to more than 4,000.
Members of Trump’s coronavirus task force said the country should be ready for between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the coming months.
“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
America’s under-pressure health system is being supplemented by field hospitals sprouting up all over New York, including a tented camp in Central Park, a hospital ship and converted convention centers.
But even with the extended capacity, doctors say they are still having to make painful choices.
“If you get a surge of patients coming in, and you only have a limited number of ventilators, you can’t necessarily ventilate patients,” Shamit Patel of the Beth Israel hospital said. “And then you have to start picking and choosing.”
The extraordinary economic and political upheaval spurred by the virus presents a real danger to the relative peace the world has seen over the last few decades, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday.
The “disease ... represents a threat to everybody in the world and... an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.”
“The combination of the two facts and the risk that it contributes to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict are things that make us believe that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War,” he said.
In virtual talks Tuesday, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 major economies pledged to address the debt burden of low-income countries and deliver aid to emerging markets.
Last week G20 leaders said they were injecting $5 trillion into the global economy to head off a feared deep recession.
In the European Union, however, battle lines have been drawn over the terms of a rescue plan.
Worst-hit Italy and Spain are leading a push for a shared debt instrument — dubbed “coronabonds.”
But talk of shared debt is a red line for Germany and other northern countries, threatening to divide the bloc.
Deaths shot up again across Europe. While there are hopeful signs that the spread of infections is slowing in hardest-hit Italy and Spain, which both reported more than 800 new deaths Tuesday.
France recorded a one-day record of 499 dead while Britain reported 381 coronavirus deaths, including that of a previously healthy 13-year-old.
That came after a 12-year-old Belgian girl succumbed to an illness that is serious chiefly for older, frailer people with pre-existing health conditions.
Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science.
Researchers said China’s decision to shutter Wuhan, ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic, may have prevented three-quarters of a million new cases by delaying the spread of the virus.
“Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan” by mid-February, said Oxford University’s Christopher Dye.