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Refugee agency condemns continued expulsion of Afghans from United Arab Emirates

News Stories, 1 March 2002

GENEVA, March 1 (UNHCR) With deportations of Afghans from the United Arab Emirates continuing, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees condemned the practice Friday, called for a halt to further expulsions, and asked that it be given access to any remaining detainees.

The refugee agency said that a third Boeing 747 jet aircraft carrying 215 Afghans left Dubai for Kabul this week, following two similar flights last Saturday that forcibly took 900 people back to Afghanistan. Previously, it had been reported that 750 persons had been sent back on the two flights.

"Altogether we have over 1,200 people deported by the Emirates," Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman, told a news briefing in Geneva. "This is quite alarming because we find that it is not the time to deport people who have nowhere to go."

In addition, Janowski said that UNHCR had recently learned that Dubai had sent a planeload with more than 100 Afghan deportees to Kabul in January. Most of those deported had been jailed for a year or longer, apparently for having entered the country illegally.

The agency complained that despite its repeated requests it had not been given access to the Afghans to see if any of them had claims to asylum. It said its regional office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had contacted governmental authorities in Dubai to stress that the deportations be stopped and that UNHCR be given access to any remaining detainees.

"We ask all countries to suspend the deportation of Afghans. The situation inside Afghanistan remains far too precarious, with insecurity and ethnic discrimination still forcing some people to flee the country," Janowski said. "This is not the time to be forcing people back to Afghanistan against their will, and certainly not people who may have claims for asylum."

In another development, UNHCR formally began Friday a broad programme to assist Afghans currently in Iran and Pakistan return home. The first 196 people of an expected 1.2 million refugees, including 400,000 internally displaced persons, were registered at a centre in Takhtabaig near the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Once inside Afghanistan, they will each be given $20 to cover transportation fees back to their home regions.

The agency will also provide the returnees with a repatriation package containing blankets, a plastic tarpaulin, kitchen sets and tools. A three-month food supply will also be provided to those returning.

"We expect the number of Afghans seeking repatriation assistance from UNHCR to increase rapidly over the coming weeks," Janowski said. "After we open other repatriation centres in Pakistan this month, we eventually expect to be able to register up to 35,000 Afghans a day."

Similar registration centres will also be opened in Iran.

UNHCR has requested $271 million for the repatriation effort for the period between October 2001 and December of this year, as well as for the care of the more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees currently in Iran and Pakistan.




UNHCR country pages

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Afghan Refugees in Iran

At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

It will benefit refugee returnees to Afghanistan as well as 3 million Afghan refugees, including 1 million in Iran and 1.7 million in Pakistan.

Many of the refugees in Iran have been living there for more than three decades. This photo set captures the lives of some of these exiles, who wait in hope of a lasting solution to their situation.

Afghan Refugees in Iran

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

Many of the more than 5.5 million Afghan refugees who have returned home since 2002 are still struggling to survive. Lack of land, job opportunities and other services, combined with poor security in some places, has caused many returnees to head to urban areas. While cities offer the promise of informal day labour, the rising cost of rental accommodation and basic commodities relegate many returnees to life in one of the informal settlements which have mushroomed across Kabul in recent years. Some families are living under canvases and the constant threat of eviction, while others have gained a toe-hold in abandoned buildings around the city.

UNHCR gives humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, and is currently rallying support from donors and humanitarian and development agencies to redouble efforts to help returning refugees reintegrate in Afghanistan.

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.
Afghanistan: Mariam's StoryPlay video

Afghanistan: Mariam's Story

Mariam was a refugee in Iran for six years. The widow and mother returned in 2002 and has been internally displaced ever since. Her situation is very uncertain.