x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UN Kabul staff begin to arrive in Dubai

Up to 700 staff are being temporarily relocated in the emirate after a deadly attack that targeted the world body in Kabul.

Some 30 UN personnel based in Afghanistan were flown to Dubai last night, the first of hundreds due to be temporarily relocated following a deadly attack that targeted the world body in Kabul last month. Up to 700 UN foreign staff are expected to be stationed in Dubai for up to two months, said Kayan Jaff, the UN's resident co-ordinator to the UAE and Qatar.

"The staff will start to arrive from Kabul in batches of around 25 to 30," he said. "We are expecting between 250 and 700 people, but we'll know exactly how many in the coming days." Plans for the temporary relocation were announced on Thursday, following a Taliban attack on a UN guesthouse in Kabul on October 28. The strike left five UN staff and three Afghans dead and prompted a reassessment of the UN's security arrangements in Afghanistan. However, on Friday the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, stressed that the body was not pulling out of the country.

"Let me be crystal clear: we are not evacuating," he told reporters after a closed UN Security Council meeting. "We will not, cannot and must not be deterred. Our work will continue." Yesterday, Mr Jaff reiterated that the move was a "temporary plan" until the security assessment was completed and the necessary changes implemented. UN staff in Afghanistan "have to be provided with appropriate security and protection and seeing as that this is not taking place, the decision was taken to remove some", he said. "We don't know exactly what will happen, but we have a two-month window here."

The UN has approximately 6,000 staff across Afghanistan, including 1,100 international staff. Those who will be temporarily based in Dubai work for agencies including the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Development Programme and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The relocation is expected to take up to two weeks, according to Mr Jaff, who added that some of the evacuated staff may be sent on to Brindisi, Italy, where the UN has a major logistics hub. Since the announcement was made on Thursday, the Dubai Government has been facilitating aspects of the relocation, including the entry of some staff who, under normal circumstances, might not be automatically issued with visas on arrival due to their nationality. So far, a hotel has been secured for the first 200 staff. Those evacuated are expected to continue working during their stay. Some working for agencies with a presence in the UAE, such as WFP, will co-ordinate with their offices here.

Dubai was chosen as the relocation station because it is a "safe haven" for UN staff in Afghanistan, many of whom travel to the UAE during regular leave periods, according to Mr Jaff. The city also has all of the necessary facilities to accommodate the influx of hundreds of staff, which will be the single largest number of UN personnel to be temporarily stationed here, he added. The Kabul attack was the second major assault on UN personnel in the region in the past month. On October 5, five UN personnel were killed when a suicide bomber targeted the WFP offices in Islamabad. According to Mr Jaff, a reassessment of the security situation for UN staff in Pakistan is also under way.

In a recent address to the 192-member UN General Assembly, Mr Ban said the UN had become too "soft a target" and that security for UN staff in Afghanistan needed to be reassessed. "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."

zconstantine@thenational.ae