On behalf of the United States, it is a pleasure to participate in this important conference. Our gathering here in Geneva endorses a regional, multi-year strategy consistent with our combined efforts in Afghanistan.
The return of nearly six million refugees to Afghanistan symbolizes hope in the country’s future, but we must all work together to ensure their lasting reintegration. UNHCR, the government of Afghanistan, and the international community have been working hard to make Afghanistan a home where returning refugees can successfully re-start and re-build after years of having their lives disrupted by conflict. We pledge our continued support to this large-scale project. Our continuing collaboration with the Afghan government, in support of returning refugees, is just one piece of the United States’ enduring partnership with Afghanistan.
Just last week, I signed an agreement with Minister Suraya Dalil of the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health, so that by July 31, 2013, twenty-six clinics in three provinces – and the essential services they provide — will be fully turned over to the Ministry of Public Health. And we’ll work together to make sure that transition to the Ministry’s management is both responsible and smooth. The progress that Afghanistan has achieved, in partnership with the international community, including in health, and in the education of Afghan boys and girls, will contribute to the sustainable reintegration of returned refugees.
We must also continue to protect those who cannot yet return to Afghanistan, even as we remain committed to continuing our support to efforts to reintegrate refugees within Afghanistan.
This strategy is consistent with the Kabul process in that it strengthens the long term commitment of the international community; it is also in line with the Istanbul Process in that it encourages regional solutions for Afghanistan’s problems. This strategy recognizes the need for Afghanistan’s neighbors to be involved, just as they have been while generously hosting millions of Afghan refugees for more than 30 years. The strategy also recognizes the need to maintain “asylum space” and protection for Afghans who cannot return to Afghanistan. We urge the renewal of proof of registration cards for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Set to expire in December of this year, these cards offer legal protection to refugees not yet ready or able to return to Afghanistan. We commend Pakistan’s Cabinet-approved Afghan Management and Repatriation Strategy and we urge its implementation at the soonest opportunity. We commend progress made in the region to document migrants who have sought jobs, health care, and education opportunities across international borders. Regularizing the movements of both documented refugees and those who have traveled without passports and visas is an important step in border management.
When Afghans fled conflict, their first and most immediate needs were basic: food, shelter, and protection. As they have returned to their homes and their lives, success will depend on access to education and jobs. All share a desire to see this succeed whether we are aid workers, hosts, or refugees. The link between relief and development is especially important in achieving dignity and self-reliance. We remain committed to assisting refugees, refugee returnees, and contributing to Afghanistan’s inclusive national development plan. President Obama’s visit to Kabul yesterday underscored our continued support for strong institutions and economic development in Afghanistan. Our contributions support the ultimate aim of strengthening Afghan sovereignty, ensuring stability and building prosperity to the benefit of all Afghans and the countries of the region.