Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here today. I’ll make a few brief comments and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
My Bureau and the U.S. government support programs designed to ease the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people, including refugees and victims of conflict, and I advise Secretary of State Clinton on humanitarian issues. We work in close partnership on these issues with colleagues from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Over the past many days, I’ve traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The purpose of my trip has been to assess the situation of Afghan refugees, both those who have lived for many years in countries of refuge, like Pakistan, and those who have made the decision to come home to Afghanistan. I am here to encourage more effective efforts by the government of Afghanistan, and by Afghanistan’s friends, to promote the well-being of those Afghans who have returned to Afghanistan.
The United States will remain a strong partner of the government and the people of Afghanistan, and our support for Afghan refugees who return to their country will not waver. More than five million refugees have returned home to Afghanistan since 2002, but over 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees remain in neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran. The United States has provided generous levels of assistance to those refugees returning to Afghanistan, and to those remaining in Pakistan and elsewhere. In the last year, the United States, including the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development, has provided nearly $155 million to Afghans displaced by conflict or natural disasters. Of that amount, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration provided $75 million this year to Afghan refugees in the region, both those who have returned home, and those still in countries of refuge.
Our support for our Afghan brothers and sisters will remain strong. In Pakistan, for example, where I was last week, we provide support for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to deliver assistance and protection to the 1.6 million registered refugees who have lived in that country for many years.
While we can and should continue to support those refugees living in Pakistan and elsewhere outside of Afghanistan, both through our assistance programs and through continued diplomacy with refugee-hosting governments, we also need to do everything possible to promote conditions for sustainable, voluntary return to Afghanistan. In 2010, the United States has spent $43.5 million to help refugees who have returned to Afghanistan make a fresh start.
Over the last few days, I’ve visited many of the projects that the U.S. government supports, including job training, basic literacy, and health programs, and have visited with returned refugees here in Kabul province and in Mazar-e-Sharif. In Mazar-e-Sharif, I spoke with women returnees who are learning to read and write and take care of their health and that of their families. The challenges for these families are enormous, and our partners, including UNHCR and non-governmental organizations— and our most critical partner, the Government of Afghanistan— are doing important work in very difficult circumstances. Today I met with the Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Minister Anwary, to discuss many of these issues, and we had a very productive discussion. We agreed that there is much more that the government of Afghanistan must do to improve the services that the government provides, in areas such as health care and job training, to those persons who have returned.
As we work to protect and empower returning refugees, we are making every effort to meet the needs of women and girls, who are often among the most vulnerable returnees, through programs designed to promote literacy and health, as well as prevent and respond to gender based violence. The United States remains committed to ensuring that women and girls, and all Afghans, have the opportunity to contribute to building their country’s economy, government and society.
I would be happy to answer any questions you might have now.