tv U.N. High Commissioner on Afghanistan Refugees CSPAN January 11, 2022 2:44am-3:14am EST
missy: we will have a conversation about the ongoing crisis in afghanistan. commissioner filippo grande, welcome to ""washington post" live." filippo: that you are very much for having me on this important topic. missy: it's a pleasure to be with you. commissioner, afghanistan's economy is in shambles. winter weather is setting in and the nation is gripped by food insecurity. as there was reported, over 3.5 million people are displaced in afghanistan, including 700,000 uprooted during 2021. how would you characterize the humanitarian crisis in afghanistan right now?
filippo: you gave already some of the most important elements of a very, very serious humanitarian situation. now, a little correction, if i may, to your initial presentation in the video. the 3.5 million people that are displaced, this is a symptom of humanitarian crisis. they actually were already displaced when the taliban took over in august. they were displaced by years of conflict between the previous government and the taliban. and it's -- the question is, after the 15th of august, the situation has deteriorated further in so many different ways. more than half of the population on the brink of famine. a very big percentage, i would say, 80% of the health system
paralyzed and unable to work. huge water problems. compounded by an endemic drought that climate change is making even worse. 70% of the teachers are not being paid. now, the causes of this are very complex. we can talk about that. certainly, at the moment, the humanitarian response is extremely urgent because winter has set in. it's snowing very heavily in vast parts of afghanistan. and the needs are growing exponentially. missy: as you note, this was already a poor country, even prior to this crisis. commissioner grandi, you are one of the first high-level foreign officials to hold talks with the taliban after the group came to power in august of last year. can you talk to us about those conversations and about, more generally, the united nations' role in a situation like this
given that the majority of outside governments have been reluctant to engage fully with the new taliban government? filippo: yeah. several of my colleagues and i have been visiting kabul quite regularly since the takeover of the taliban. i was there in september, pretty early on, a few weeks after the takeover. and i think this engagement is important. at the moment, it is, you know, very much on the humanitarian side. and on that front, i have to say, engagement has been relatively positive, constructive. in fact, humanitarian organizations, u.n., n.g.o.'s, red cross and others, have more access to more areas of afghanistan now than they have had for years because that conflict that i spoke about, the displacement of so many people, is actually -- isn't happening
right now. has ended with the takeover of the taliban. that has opened up many years that were -- areas that were previously very insecure. it's interesting, there is a figure that's very seldom quoted. we estimate that 170,000 displaced people, especially among the most recently displaced, have actually returned to their homes since august. now, this may be -- may sound counterintuitive, but it is because many areas are more secure now than they have been in a long time. and we need to take advantage of this. we need to bring as much as possible, humanitarian assistance, to those areas to offset the risks, the lifesaving risks that many afghans are running at the moment. and then, of course, in that space, which humanitarian dialogue is opening up with the taliban, we need to use that space, also, in many other ways. we need to continue to promote
the notion that women must work, that minorities must be represented, that girls must attend schools. these are complex discussions with the taliban, but that space allows us to have those discussions on behalf of the international community. missy: so in addition to the absence of civil conflict that you just described, has the taliban government facilitated -- is it facilitating the humanitarian work that you and your u.n. partners and the aid agencies are doing? filippo: i would say yes. it has -- at least i would say it has not put obstacles to the work that we do. and whenever we have encountered obstacles, remember, this is a very fluid situation. this is an insurgent movement that has taken over a country probably much faster than they even imagined. and therefore, they have huge
problems of managing this authority that they have acquired. so there's many problems that emerge older times in many parts of the country the pattern usually has been one of cooperation. if the u.n., not just -- the u.n. as a whole, as a mission, flags, highlights there is a problem in a certain area, generally, not always, generally this problem is addressed. if we don't have access, if our women employees are not allowed, we flag this issue. and it is generally addressed. so so far so good. of course, the challenges remain very big. there are many areas in which we do not agree with the policies the taliban are enforcing. but like i said, there is a space for dialogue, and that space is vital, literally vital for millions of afghans. missy: i know that one of the biggest questions that the international community would like an answer to is whether this new taliban government, the
taliban 2.0 is the same taliban that ruled afghanistan very harshly during the 1990's. it may be too soon to answer that question. what i would to ask you is, what is the taliban's ideology and outlook as we can observe it to date on certain issues, including, as you mentioned before, the role of women and religious minorities mean for the work that u.n. h.c.r. is doing, how does it affect the vital assistance you are providing? filippo: this is such an important question you are asking. i think it has many aspects. i will try to be quick in responding. first of all, is this the same type of taliban government that we saw in the 1990's? you know, i have been involved in afghanistan for decades. i have some -- even some personal comparisons i can make. i don't know. it's difficult to say. certainly, what has changed, and it has been said so many times already, afghanistan itself. the afghanistan that the taliban
took over in 1996, 1997, was profoundly different than the afghanistan that they have taken over reenltly. and -- recently. and they have to live with that. they have to cope with that. they have to deal with that situation. and that, i think, is positive in the sense that many investments were made. many people are saying all those investments are wasted. no. i think all the investments made in 20 years between 2001 and 2021 have changed the country and have made it impossible for anybody to rule it in the way that was tried to -- was tried 25 years ago. so there's a difference there. and what does it mean for us? it means, of course, we're still dealing with complex aspects of that ideology and that mode of governance. remember, that was so obvious to me in the few days i spent there and certainly obvious to me --
obvious to colleagues of mine that day in day out are dealing with the taliban, they are not a homogenius group. they are diverse. different constituencies. they have also catered to certain constituencies. i think there is a vast substantial group within the taliban to whom we can talk about the difficult issues we have mentioned, especially the rights of women, the rights of women and the rights of minorities which are still very open discussions. of so the dilemma here or the difficulty here, the challenge here is to balance the need to deliver quickly humanitarian assistance to millions of afghans in desperate need and at the same time to keep open the discussion of the difficult issues. but without blocking humanitarian assistance, that would be a great mistake. but it is a difficult balancing act, as you can certainly appreciate. missy: in august, u.n. h.c.r.
released a nonreturn advisory for afghanistan, calling for a halt of force returns. can you describe the continues for us that the displaced afghans are living in right now? what sort of facilities are they living in? what sort of support are they getting from either the taliban government or the international community? filippo: let me unpack this important issue. the u.n. estimates there's about nine million displaced people in the country. they have been displaced over the years by so many factors -- drought, natural disasters, and conflict. 3.5 million at least by conflict. so that's a huge -- one of the biggest, perhaps the biggest displacement situation inside the country of any country in the world. then, you have refugees outside the country. there are at least six million afghans in neighboring
countries, in iran and pakistan, in particular. 2.5 million about are registered as refugees and other type of status. and then you have afghans in turkey, in europe. the diaspora is very big. what we said to everybody, to people -- to countries hosting afghans outside the country is, don't send anybody back at the moment. the situation is too fragile. and what we're doing for displaced people inside the country, we're giving them humanitarian assistance because many of them are homeless, for example. they need shelter. they need food. they need health care. and we are also helping those that opt for going back to their provinces of origin. as i said, some of them are doing that. so it's a very fluid situation. one more point, if i may, which is very important. looking to the future. i am usually very prudent in my forecast. but if the social and economic
situation of the country is not tackled quickly, i foresee much bigger movements once the winter season ends and travel conditions becomes easier. it's a very real risk. and here, i have to add a very important point. humanitarian assistance that i have spoken about can keep the country going for a chilly, can keep the people going for a while, but it's not going to be enough. remember, because of the taliban takeover, development assistance has been frozen. there's no cash resources circulating in the country. there's a lot of problems linked to sanctions and other political measures. now, this needs to be revisited. i understand why those measures are in place, but i think they need to be balanced against the fact that the country needs to function, needs to offer a minimum of basic services to its
people. otherwise, if that is not resulted, i foresee, without any doubt, that we will see larger internal displacement and also displacement across the borders to neighboring countries and maybe beyond. missy: i want to push you on that, the economic question in a moment. but first, let's go back to iran and pakistan, which you were just mentioning in terms of receiving millions of afghan refugees. can you talk to us a little bit about your recent work with iran regarding afghan refugees? filippo: i visited iran in december. just before christmas. and actually, i was in pakistan, also, in september, when i went to afghanistan. this is because, of course, for my organization, work with afghan refugees and the vast majority are in niece two countries -- these two countries, is a priority. this is our core mandate. and here i want to flag an important point.
there's a lot of focus on the current crisis in afghanistan but let's not forget, these two countries have hosted afghan refugees for more than 40 years. and in recent years, it has become very difficult to mobilize the resources they need to fulfill this international responsibility of hosting afghan refugees. now, my visits where my -- my recent visits were to also address where we see an increase in the number of afghans crossing into the neighboring countries. and we have not seen a very big massively outflow as we saw in different periods of recent afghan history. although we have seen people moving into these two countries. in my -- during my visit to iran, the government is estimating actually a rather large movement into iran.
they estimate that this could be up to 500,000 people that have moved into the country since august. it's difficult for us to estimate because there are no statistics. there is no scientific count. i went there to discuss with the government how we can do that, how we can have a better idea of the new arrivals, where they are, organize them, provide them with assistance. here, i want to make another point related to iran. iran has always had very forward-looking policies, very humanitarian policies in respect to afghans. there are specific laws and provisions that allow all afghan children to have access to education, for example. and certain sectors of iran's economy, in particular, the construction industry, have traditionally been an important source of livelihoods for millions of afghans. be they refugees or people without a status. of course, iran is under
sanctions. iran is going through a very difficult economic crisis of its own for many different reasons. so at the moment, they're struggling with supporting this additional afghan population. and from the humanitarian point of view, this is not a political judgment. of course, i went there also to appeal to the international community for more help to be given to iran as it comes under renewed pressure because of the afghan refugee situation. missy: and has there been a response from the international community in terms of providing the additional support that is needed in iran, as you just mentioned, and potentially in pakistan which is also facing its own economic and social challenges? filippo: yes, there has been. i think one side effect, if you wish, of the august events was to bring more visibility to the afghan situation and for the first time in years, we saw an
increase in financial contributions. you know, the u.n. -- not just u.n. h.r., but u.n. appeals, plural, that was put out in 2021 for afghanistan were largely subscribed. the refugee appeal that we put out, an extraordinary one that we put out in september, was 70% funded. you may it's not much, but compared to previous budget percentages, it was a better response. now, next tuesday, the u.n., including u.n. h.r., will put out another big humanitarian appeal, both for inside afghanistan and for the neighboring countries. and i do hope and i would like to use this opportunity to really reinforce this. i do hope there will be a good response. it is vital to provide humanitarian assistance at the moment for all the reasons we
have been discussing today. missy: mr. commissioner, i'd like to go back to afghanistan's economy, which as you mentioned prior to the the taliban takeover, was heavily dependent on foreign aid. donor funds was 3/4 of the country's revenue. now with the taliban in charge, much of that monetary flow has dried up. in addition, the united states has frozen billions of dollars in afghan reserves that are held in new york banks, exacerbating the economic crisis. do you believe, as many u.s. lawmakers and diplomats have urged, that the united states and other nations need to be more flexible in providing financial assistance, despite the sanctions you referenced earlier? and how can they do that without running afoul of many of these laws that have been in place since 2001? filippo: of course, i believe
that flexibility is a must in a situation like that. we're talking about millions of human lives. we're also talking about frankly, the stability of the region that has many problems. let's not forget the taliban themselves, after they took over, have had to face their own insurgency from other armed groups. of course, further impoverishment of the country will constitute, will create fer tile ground for new -- fertile ground for new terrorism and new insurgencies which have terrible potential to destabilize the region. that's why pakistan, iran, central asian states are so worried about that. so i think it's important, while the pressure is kept on the key
issues, that we all care for, rights of women, rights of minority, i mentioned this already, we need to keep that pressure, but we also need to make sure that service is function. that afghans can go to the hospital. that the pitiful covid vaccination rate, i think less than 10% at the moment, are increased. there's a lot of talk about girls in schools. but if 70% of the teachers are not paid, nobody can go to school. so i think all this needs to be looked at with a great deal of balance and flexibility. the question will also be how to do that. i understand that -- i understand this is a political issue. donor countries are reluctant to channel their funds through taliban authorities. they were channeled through the afghan government before. now they're reluctant to do
that. at least until certain things are -- and we are exploring in the u.n. many alternative systems to make sure that services function. like paying salaries through u.n. agencies, for example. now, all of this is very technical. it's far beyond my remit. but it's important. but in the end, in the end, it is important to maintain that dialogue with the taliban because all the systems will be temporary nature. and how to ensure that afghanistan is viable, is a viable country, able to support its people, i think will only be achieved through dialogue between the international community and the taliban themselves. but dialogue won't be easy. we can look at measures to make it function. but in the end, that dialogue is important. the dialogue goes both ways. when i was in kabul and when my
colleagues were there, we all told the taliban the same message. if you want your resources to be unfrozen, if you want the country to enjoy, again, substantial development support by the international community, you also have to make steps in their direction. it goes both ways, but it is a dialogue. it cannot be a wall-to-wall situation. missy: mr. commissioner, i think we have time for one more question. i'd like to ask you a related question. do you believe that nations that have played a significant role in afghanistan's recent history, particularly the united states and some other nato nations that had a military presence there for 20 years, do you believe these countries have a moral responsibility to accept more refugees and absorb some of this need or desire from afghans to resettle outside of their country given the current conditions? filippo: well, you know, i think
this -- there's 26 million, 27 million refugees around the world. i am not talking about the internally displaced. i am talking about the refugees. less than 1% is resettled from countries, neighboring conflicts or crisis to wealthier countries. so this burden-sharing between the countries that are near the crisis and the richer countries is minimal. and i think all countries hosting large numbers of refugees deserve more burden-sharing in that sense, deserve richer countries to take more of those refugees. this is a general point. and this point applies, certainly, also to iran and pakistan. i'm glad that some of the countries that have been involved in afghanistan for many years, as you said, have put forward offers to take more of those refugees as a consequence
of what has recently happened. the question is more complex about people that are inside afghanistan because this is what happened in august. there was a lot of direct evacuation out of the country. mostly of people who had links with those countries. mostly in a bilateral fashion. but that is much more complicated now because now the if there are particularly complex cases inside the country that deserve to be considered for, you know, traveling outside and being resettled to third country this is will have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis but it's not going to be simple. missy: i think i can squeeze in one final question. i think our listeners and viewers would be interested to hear a little more about the challenges and opportunity, potentially, that your teams working on the ground across
afghanistan are face at this moment. how are things different from the preaugust 15 environment until now? filippo: like i said, i know this may sound counterintuitive but security has been easier. beater -- better. security was a big challenge for us for years. since i am in this job, i've been several times to afghanistan. i remember20, 16, 2018, 2019. and all these visits, the main channel, the main thing i discussed with my colleagues is how can we get to place x, place y with the fighting, with the risk of attacks, of unexemployeded ordinants. of terrorist ties to our operation. all of that, i wouldn't say all of that, but a great deal of that is now better. we are in a phase in which
access is possible. soing that we need to take advantage of this window and let the me repeat it once more. this window allows us because we are needed in afghanistan. we are required, the taliban understand that without our support the humanitarian crisis will be even worse and they cannot cope with it. we need to use that space, one to deliver, and two, to have dlie dialogue with them and try to bring them to more reasonable positions on all the complicated issues of rights that we are discussing with them. missy: now we actually have r out of time. i want to thank you, commissioner grande, for -- grandi, for joining us for this important conversation. filippo: thank you for having me. missy: thank you for joining us here and "washington post" live. for more information about