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Wednesday, 16 August 1989
Page: 147

Senator GILES —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and relates to the 2 1/2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan unable to return to their homes because villages and roads are mined and rocket attacks and fighting continue. Even if these difficulties were overcome in the near future, the current planting season is almost over, which means another winter in the refugee camps. Is the Minister aware of the fact that many donor countries have ceased or reduced aid to these refugees so that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is suddenly faced with a shortfall of $4m to the end of this year? Is Australia maintaining multilateral and bilateral aid to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, 75 per cent of whom are women and children, in many cases without resources and unable to fend for themselves?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Australian Government shares Senator Giles's concern with the situation of Afghan refugees. Our funding support is as follows: in June 1988 we pledged $20m over three financial years in response to a United Nations (UN) appeal for humanitarian and economic assistance programs for Afghanistan. Most of that Australian pledge will be channelled through the UN with some funds being allocated for the activities of non-government organisations. Under these programs the resettlement of several million Afghan refugees and displaced persons will be coordinated by international agencies and non-government organisations (NGOs). Our contribution will be used mainly to provide food.

Following the Soviet withdrawal, the Australian Government is providing $3.2m of that pledge this financial year. The bulk of these funds are being channelled through the UN coordinator's office for allocation to the UNHCR, the world food program and the coordinator's office itself. Funds have also been provided to the International Committee of the Red Cross-$250,000-and another $50,000 has been provided to the agency coordinating body for Afghan relief, which is an NGO umbrella body.

Australian assistance for the Afghan refugees, including those located in Pakistan, for the period since the Soviet invasion in 1979, when it is all added up, totals almost $48m. It is expected that a significant part of the remainder of the $20m pledge will be spent in the coming year, a large part in the form of food aid.