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Afghanistan marks World Refugee Day on June 20

Crisis in Afghanistan, 20 June 2007

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 20 June 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, June 20 (UNHCR) Today is World Refugee Day. Every year the world honours the courage, resilience and strength of refugees on this special day. As the High Commissioner for the UN refugee agency, Mr. Antonio Guterres, says in his World Refugee Day message: "Today we are facing what may prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the century".

Almost 40 million people worldwide have been uprooted and forced to flee violence and persecution. The future is likely to see increasing numbers of people on the move. Many of them will be in search of economic opportunity and better lives or escaping environmental degradation and natural disasters. Others will be forced to flee failing states wracked by violence and persecution.

The High Commissioner also notes: "It is time to recognize that we are facing what is nothing less than a new paradigm of displacement in the 21st Century. There are no easy answers, but while the international community grapples with the root causes of displacement, it must pay more attention to protecting the vulnerable and building opportunities for their futures".

Refugee Return Figures

The rate of refugee return to Afghanistan has been higher this year as compared to 2006: So far over 245,000 Afghans have repatriated, mainly from Pakistan (243,000) and Iran (2,500). The significant number of return of Afghans from Pakistan during the grace period (over 205,000) largely account for this high return figure. During the grace period (March 1st April 15th 2007), Afghans who had not been in position to register were offered a last opportunity to return with UNHCR's assistance.

Between March 1st and the end of June 2006, more than 78,000 Afghans returned. This year, at the same juncture, more than 245,000 have returned already representing a three-fold increase.

Since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation operation started in 2002, Afghanistan has become the world's single largest returnee receiving country, with over 4.8 million Afghans returning home some 4 million of them under the UNHCR-assisted programme.

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Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

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.