x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ban meets bomb survivors in Dubai

During a stopover, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has 'emotional' session with guesthouse staff evacuated from Afghanistan to Emirates.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, says UN staff in Afghanistan need better protection.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, says UN staff in Afghanistan need better protection.

DUBAI // Evacuated survivors of the Taliban attack on a UN guesthouse in Kabul had a "very emotional" meeting with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, an aide said. The UN chief was in Dubai in transit to Kabul, officials said. Mr Ban arrived at the hotel on Sunday with a small delegation.

"It was a very emotional and quite touching meeting and the secretary general gave his full support to the staff and listened to them very carefully," said Kayan Jaff, the UN's resident co-ordinator to the UAE and Qatar, who was present during the closed-door meeting. "The majority are traumatised by the shock, after this very traumatic experience. Naturally, he instructed us to provide them with full support and whatever they may need."

Twenty-seven UN staff members were flown to the UAE over the weekend, including some of the survivors of the attack last Wednesday. Five UN staff members and three Afghans were killed in the attack, which targeted one of several UN guesthouses in the Afghan capital. An additional nine people were injured. Among those killed in the incident were staff from a UN agency providing support for the Afghan election.

Militants stormed the guesthouse in the second major attack on UN personnel in the region in the past month. On October 5, another five UN personnel were killed when a suicide bomber targeted the offices of the World Food Programme in Islamabad. Several of those injured in that attack were also flown to the UAE for medical treatment. Mr Jaff said the meeting between Mr Ban and UN staff was not part of an official visit but was able to take place because the secretary general was transiting through Dubai.

Mr Ban's last official visit to the UAE came in February, when he took part in high-level talks after the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip. Although the details of his visit or destination were not initially released for security reasons, it was disclosed yesterday that he had arrived in Kabul on a surprise visit, amid confusion surrounding the planned Afghan runoff election. On Sunday, Abdullah Abdullah, the sole rival of the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, withdrew from the second-round vote.

Mr Ban held meetings with Dr Abdullah and Mr Karzai, as well as his special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, and UN staff. The secretary general was expected to return through Dubai last night. "One of the main aims of his visit was to show solidarity with the staff there," Mr Jaff said. On Friday, Mr Ban addressed the 192-member UN General Assembly, saying that the UN had become too "soft a target" in Afghanistan.

During his General Assembly address, he said that security for UN staff in Afghanistan needed to be reassessed, calling for "political, material and financial support" from member states. "We have a moral duty to protect the brave men and women of the United Nations who are carrying out that mission," he said. "After all, we sent them. They are there on our orders, doing the vital work that we all agree must be done."

On Saturday, Ahmed al Jarman, the UAE's Ambassador to the UN, offered the country's condolences to the families of the victims of the Kabul attack. WAM, the state news agency, reported that the 27 evacuated staff had been provided with fast-tracked visas to allow them urgent entry into the UAE. Two are still receiving medical treatment. The remaining staff are recuperating from the ordeal and receiving counselling.

Mr Jaff said they would remain in Dubai until they felt ready to travel back to their countries of residence. "It is very worrying what happened in Afghanistan and the whole UN family is outraged by this," he said. "Some of the staff came with no documents, as they were forgotten or lost in the chaos. [The UAE has] taken care of everything and are excellent hosts." He added that special thanks should go to Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative to Al Gharbia and chairman of the UAE Red Crescent Authority, as well as the Foreign Aid Co-ordination Office.

In addition to the 27 UN personnel currently in Dubai, six staff from Unifem, the UN women's fund, also passed through the UAE en route to India following their evacuation from Kabul. The six were able to secure their Indian visas in one day, through the help of the Indian Embassy here, said Mr Jaff, who is also the head of the Abu Dhabi office of the FAO, the UN food and agriculture agency. Additional UN staff are expected to be evacuated to the UAE for treatment over the coming days, he added.

@Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae