Remarks of PRM Acting Assistant Secretary Carol T. O’Connell at the International Conference on 40 Years of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

Thank you for welcoming me today.  And I agree with Minister Afridi that support to refugees is, indeed, about humanity.  We wish to thank our host, the Government of Pakistan, for welcoming us here today, and also for being a generous host to refugees fleeing one of the world’s largest, most protracted crisis situations.  For forty years, the people of Pakistan and their leaders have committed themselves to the safety and security of Afghans fleeing violence and persecution.  On behalf of the American people, I offer the continuing, heartfelt gratitude of the United States of America for your steadfast generosity.

We also want to recognize Pakistan’s more recent efforts to improve the lives of the more than 1.4 million Afghan refugees it hosts.  Since 2006, Pakistan has issued Proof of Registration cards to provide Afghan refugees with the legal right to live in Pakistan.  We laud the government’s decision to extend this important protection tool through June 2020.  Financial stability is another key way to help refugees contribute to the economies of their host communities.  Pakistan’s efforts to allow Afghan refugees to open bank accounts helps them become self-reliant and support their families.

For many years, the United States has prioritized support for Afghan returnees, refugees, conflict victims, and those displaced throughout the region.  Since 2001, we have provided nearly $3.4 billion in humanitarian assistance to support displaced Afghans in Afghanistan and throughout the region.  With this funding we have supported the work of UNHCR and non-governmental organizations to help educate children, provide health care, and protect the most vulnerable.

We also work on the other side of the border, in Afghanistan, to create conditions that will allow for the safe return of those who wish to go home.   All sides agree that a political settlement is needed in Afghanistan and the United States is trying to create the path to negotiations among Afghans to reach that settlement and chart their future.  When Afghan refugees can return home safely and voluntarily, we will assist with the return and will continue to support the reintegration of returning Afghans into their communities.

We note that the situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, and we call on all countries to refrain from forcing the return of Afghans.  Any large-scale involuntary returns could overwhelm communities and create instability that could undermine efforts to achieve a lasting peace that would help Afghans return home voluntarily.

For its part, the international community must help Pakistan protect, care for, and create opportunities for Afghan refugees.  I urge the international community to continue its robust support for Afghan refugees and ask all host countries to keep providing a safe environment to Afghans who cannot safely return.  And we encourage all partners to support Afghanistan’s efforts to create a peaceful and stable Afghanistan ready to welcome all of its citizens home.

We appreciate all that Pakistan has done for Afghan refugees. For the U.S., we believe it is important to support refugees close to their home country.

From my perspective working on refugee situations globally, I often point to Pakistan as a leader for other countries to emulate. Particularly in education and healthcare, Pakistan has set the example.

Finally, we appreciate the longevity of Pakistan’s efforts, and the U.S. will continue to support you including when Afghans can return home voluntarily.