Italian Government contributes EUR 3 million to assist returning Afghans

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 2 July 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR at the UNAMA press briefing in Kabul, attributable to UN refugee agency spokesman M. Nadir Farhad, UNHCR Public Information Section, Kabul, Afghanistan.

KABUL, 2 July 2007 (UNHCR) - The UN Refugee Agency warmly welcomes an Italian donation of EUR 3 million (over US$3.97 million) to support the agency's programmes in Afghanistan. The generous contribution comes at a time when UNHCR's programme, mainly the assisted repatriation programme, is facing a serious shortage of funds.

Last week, the Italian Government signed an agreement confirming its support to one of UNHCR's largest operations in the world. The bulk of the funding will go to travel and reintegration cash grants for Afghans returning from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. "We are very grateful for the continued Italian support," said Mr. Salvatore Lombardo, UNHCR's Representative in Afghanistan. "This is another expression of Italy's long term commitment to the most deprived Afghans."

This includes over US$ 1.5 million to assist returnees through projects to provide basic health facilities, assistance for women at risk and extremely vulnerable individuals, income generation activities and some 1,000 shelters in addition to the 10,000 that have already been planned. Over US$2 million will go towards facilitating the voluntary repatriation of Afghans from Pakistan and Iran in 2007.

"Refugee return is a top priority for us and the Italian Government. We are committed to assisting the most vulnerable Afghans at the time when the country may be confronted with an increased number of returnees," said Italian Ambassador Mr. Ettore Francesco Sequi. Since 2002, the Italian Government has contributed more than EUR 18 million to UNHCR's operations in Afghanistan.

Since UNHCR started assisting returns to Afghanistan in 2002, some 4 million Afghans have been helped home from neighbouring countries, including over 3 million from Pakistan and some 860,000 from Iran. Another 1.1 million have returned home on their own. In addition, the refugee agency has assisted half a million internally displaced Afghans to return to their areas of origin.

Returnees from Pakistan and Iran receive travel and initial reintegration assistance, currently averaging $100 per person. In Afghanistan, UNHCR helps them to settle in through activities that include returnee monitoring, shelter support and income-generating projects and the protection of vulnerable groups like women at risk.