Afghan Refugees Face Harsh Winter, Continued Uncertainty
Earlier this week, Pakistan and Afghanistan reached an agreement, planning for the return—phased over three years—of 1.8 million Afghan refugees. Pakistan’s Minister of Border Affairs, Aftab Sherpao and Afghanistan’s Minister for Refugee Affairs agreed to the plan on Tuesday, calling for the closure of refugee camps—some created as early as 1979 when the Soviets invaded.
During the last two decades, more than three million Afghans have sought refuge in Pakistan, according to the Associated Press. Since January, roughly 1.5 million refugees have returned home, but 1.8 million remain, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Still, conditions throughout the region remain harsh, exacerbated by the severe winter. Last week, following a review of its data, the UNHCR released new numbers showing a decline in the Afghan refugee population for nine camps in Pakistan’s North West Frontier province. The drop from 54,767 to 49,943 people was attributed to earlier record-keeping inaccuracies as well as recent deaths from the cold winter.
Aid agencies caution that plans to return refugees to Afghanistan are premature, given the unstable environment. Last year, in Kabul alone, returning refugees boosted the population from 1.7 million to 2.5 million. Still, the AP reports that many have fled again due to decrepit infrastructure and continued violence, including battling warlords, the recent bombing of 12 girls’ schools; threats to Loya Jirga delegates who have spoken out for human rights, including Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr. Sima Samar; the assassination of two government ministers; violence against women in the Northern provinces; violence against humanitarian aid workers; and the continued use of tactics of intimidation against the return of girls to school. The need for expansion of peacekeeping forces both within and beyond Kabul remains urgent.
In southern Afghanistan, where there are nearly 400,000 “internally displaced people", the recent deaths of 10 refugee children has prompted the UN to re-examine its winter aid efforts, reported the BBC. Despite the distribution of blankets and supplies to more than two million people, additional assistance is critically needed.
12/11/2013 Human Rights Day Celebrated Around The World - Yesterday marked International Human Rights Day, a day to celebrate human rights advances and to assess the challenges that lie ahead in protecting them.
"The fundamentals for protecting and promoting human rights are largely in place: these include a strong and growing body of international human rights law and standards, as well as institutions to interpret the laws, monitor compliance and apply them to new and emerging human rights issues," said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a statement. . . .
12/11/2013 UConn Under Federal Investigation For Mishandling Sexual Assault Cases - The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) informed the University of Connecticut on Monday that it will investigate the school for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases and violating Title IX, the federal law that requires all recipients of federal financial assistance for education programs and activities to prohibit sex discrimination and sexual harassment [PDF].
The investigation was sparked after seven women filed a formal complaint in October alleging that UConn had failed to protect them from sexual assault and exposed them to a sexually hostile environment.One woman says her attacker was expelled from campus but later readmitted without her knowledge. . . .
12/11/2013 Massachusetts Democrat Katherine Clark Wins Congressional Seat - Democrat Katherine Clark will become the fifth woman to represent Massachusetts in the US House Tuesday, after easily defeating three opponents in a special election.
"Six years ago, there wasn't a single woman representing Massachusetts in Congress," said Niki Tsongas, the only other woman representing Massachusetts in the House. . . .