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Afghanistan: ICRC president assesses worsening humanitarian situation during visit

08-04-2008 News Release 08/62

Geneva/Kabul (ICRC) – The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, is in Afghanistan for a seven-day visit to get a first-hand look at the situation in the country.

'' We are extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. There is growing insecurity and a clear intensification of the armed conflict, which is no longer limited to the south but has spread to the east and west,'' said Mr Kellenberger.

Mr Kellenberger will hold talks with the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. He will also meet the minister of foreign affairs, Rangain Dadfar Spanta, the minister of public health, Sayed Mohammad Amin Fatemi and the deputy justice minister, Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai. In addition, he will hold talks with the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), General Dan McNeill, and Major General Jeffrey J. Schloesser, who commands the 101st Airborne Division, US Army. Mr Kellenberger will also meet the president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), Fatima Gailani, to discuss how better to reach vulnerable communities across the country.

Intensification of the conflict has forced a growing number of people from their homes. While the ICRC has stepped up its humanitarian activities in recent years, dangerous conditions often prevent it from reaching groups such as displaced persons who need protection and assistance. The organization engages in confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict, including the armed opposition, in an effort to reach these particularly vulnerable communities.

'' The harsh reality is that in large parts of Afghanistan, little development is taking place. Instead, the conflict is forcing more and more people to flee their homes. Their growing humanitarian needs and those of other vulnerable people must be met as a matter of u rgency. The Afghan people deserve to live in a secure environment and have access to decent health care, safe drinking water and adequate food supplies,'' added Mr Kellenberger.

During his trip, the ICRC president will visit Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, the main referral hospital in the conflict-affected south of the country. Together with the Ministry of Health, the ICRC works to ensure that all patients have access to essential medical services at Mirwais and that war-wounded patients receive the treatment they need.

Apart from discussing the overall humanitarian crisis, Mr Kellenberger will focus on detention-related issues, and will visit Bagram Temporary Internment Facility (BTIF) where more than 600 people are detained by the United States.'' The detention of persons captured or arrested in connection with the fight against terrorism must take place within an appropriate legal framework. We see the need for more robust procedural safeguards in Bagram where – to this day – most detainees live in uncertainty about their fate,'' said Mr Kellenberger.

The ICRC has been in Afghanistan since 1987. Its delegates regularly visit detainees held by Afghan and international forces to assess their treatment and conditions of detention and to enable them to maintain contact with their families. The organization provides artificial limbs and physiotherapy for tens of thousands of physically disabled people, especially landmine victims, in six limb-fitting centres across the country. It supports hospitals in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Jawzjan and provides clean water and sanitation in health facilities and several places of detention.

Afghanistan is the ICRC’s fourth largest operation globally with more than 1,200 staff and a projected budget for 2008 of about 60 million Swiss Francs (60 million US Dollars).

  For further information, please contact:
  Graziella Leite Piccolo, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93700 282 719
  Carla Haddad, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2405 or +41 79 217 32 26