Meeting on Afghan Refugees in Central Asia: NGOs excluded

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Date: Sun, 15 Feb 1998 11:57:02 -0800
From: MINELRES moderator <>
Subject: Meeting on Afghan Refugees in Central Asia: NGOs excluded

Original sender: Natalia Ablova  <>

Meeting on Afghan Refugees in Central Asia: NGOs excluded


On 10-11 February, the UNHCR Office in Bishkek held a Consultative Meeting
on Afghan Refugees in Central Asia. The event was jointly organized by the UNHCR,
Government of Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Bishkek
Migration Management Centre (a GONGO). Officials from five Central Asian
countries together with international experts from Geneva secretly discussed
the problem of migration from Afghanistan.

According to a worker of the UNHCR Office in Bishkek, the initial intention of
the main organizer (UNHCR) to invite NGOs was blocked by government
delegations. Journalists were also denied access to all discussions. Only
during the final press-conference organizers released a list of proposed
actions to relieve the problem of Afghanis, that is:

- to establish a system of inter-government exchange of information;
- to create a regional system of refugees' registration;
- to create a database on refugee flows from countries of their origin;
- to promote research on the problems of Afghan refugees, etc.

Interested NGOs and local journalists expressed deep regret and dissatisfaction
by such demonstrative lack of cooperation from the part of governments and
by the no less regretful conformist position by the Bishkek Division of UNHCR.

What makes it even more strange - at the end of January, Helmut Buss, head of
the UNHCR Office in Bishkek, publicly sought assistance of local media at a
conference dedicated to the press coverage of refugee issues.

Helmut Buss: The international community deals not only with results but
with the root causes of refugees:

1) human rights violations;
2) inter-ethnic conflicts;
3) civil wars.

H.Buss touched upon the mission and the mandate of the UNHCR in Kyrgyzstan:

1) Assistance to refugees (90% of the work). Housing, food and medical care
is not significant. The main field of assistance is to help create
legislation and mechanisms to deal with refugees(e.g. Afghanis in
Kyrgyzstan). There is a lot of reluctance in the government of Kyrgyzstan to
deal with the issues. Fair procedures to determining refugees should be
established. There is a lack of policies on how to deal with refugees. The
concepts do not exist. Policy is a crucial need.

2) Capacity of a county to deal with refugees. Prevention and capacity
building. Kyrgyzstan has acceded to the Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees.However,appeal procedures do not function in Kyrgyzstan.

3) Prevention activities. Flows of people and migration have had a negative
impact on the economy of the country. There have been workshops for police
trainers in the field of human rights in all countries in Central Asia. Public
awareness projects are being undertaken by UNHCR.

According to H.Buss, it is difficult to tell the government what they should do.

But the media has a lot of power to affect the situation of refugees.
A competition for the best journalistic piece and photograph on refugees
was announced.Participants reached the consensus:the message about refugees
should be clear, this topic is not only of interest for a journalist but
presents a sort of moral obligation to report the issues honestly.

Refugees are not always a big story of the day (like Somalia, Rwanda,
Bosnia etc.). Sometimes the issues are routine. It is easier to be
courageous than to be accurate in reporting on refugee problems. Broadcasts
have very significant impacts on refugee situations. Pictures can cause a
lot of emotional responses.

Problems of rumours: Rumours are very dangerous. Rumours about Armenian
refugees caused disturbances in Dushanbe and in Bishkek in 1990. Journalists
must remember that refugees need them all UNHCR workers need them.

After such clearly outlined call for cooperation, accuracy, honesty and
transparency it is hard to account for the demand to clear the floor. The
routine practicing of double standards is becoming a landmark in the work
style of UN institutions all over the world.

The problem of refugees is not exclusively a governmental issue.Governments
alone can hardly solve this burning problem without the assistance and
involvement of civil society.Any attempts to impose unmotivated  and
unnecessary secrecy (especially ,if such attempts are reluctantly supported
by the UNHCR representatives) run counter to the Programme of Actions
adopted by the 1996 CIS Conference.

Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law
12 February 1998

Natalia Ablova, Director,
Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law,
40 Manas avenue, Room 77, Bishkek 720001,
Tel.+3312 211874
Fax +3312 223924

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