Evacuated UN workers return to Afghanistan

Three months after being moved to Dubai for their own safety, the organisation's staff are going back to the war-torn country.

ABU DHABI // Dozens of United Nations staff who were temporarily moved to Dubai from Afghanistan for security reasons are returning to their posts. More than 50 UN personnel were moved to Dubai in November following a suicide attack on a guesthouse used by the organisation in Kabul.

Five UN staff members were among 12 people who died in the October 28 attack, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. About 20 staff from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) remain in Dubai. They were expected to be back in Afghanistan by March 8, after security around staff accommodation was bolstered, said Kayan Jaff, the UN's resident co-ordinator to the UAE and Qatar. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, had personally expressed his appreciation to the UAE authorities, Mr Jaff said.

"This has been a very successful operation and has shown the commitment of all parties involved," Mr Jaff said. "Dubai is considered a safe haven, a stable city with all the necessary amenities to continue working." According to UN officials, at the height of the relocation there were more than 75 staff from Afghanistan in Dubai. Since November, some had travelled between the UAE and Afghanistan, as well as back to their home countries.

Most are now back at their posts in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan. Mosa Elayan, who works for the UN's department of safety and security in the UAE, said two Afghan-based staff from Unifem, the organisation's women's fund, were expected to remain in Dubai for the next six months. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, instructed local bodies to ease the workers' stay, Mr Jaff added.

There was also support from the office of Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Mr Jaff said. Since November, the staff have been based at International Humanitarian City, where they have continued their work in fields such as public information, governance and human rights. "They had all of the facilities provided to them to be able to continue to work remotely," Mr Jaff said.

Shortly after their arrival, many of the workers, who are not authorised by the UN to reveal their identities, spoke of their commitment to the war-torn country. "We are not abandoning Afghanistan," one said at the time. "We are very committed and want to carry on our work, but this can only be done with security." There are about 6,900 UN workers in Afghanistan, including more than 1,000 international staff working for agencies including Unama, the World Food Programme, Unicef and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Unama, established in 2002, is headed by Mr Ban's special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide. It oversees activities including emergency relief and efforts to rebuild the country. There are also more than 200 international and local UN staff based in the UAE. @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae