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Sweden, Afghanistan, UNHCR sign deal on voluntary return of Afghans

Crisis in Afghanistan, 23 June 2007

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 23 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, 23 June 2007 The governments of Afghanistan and Sweden, together with the UN refugee agency, today sign an agreement outlining the terms for the voluntary repatriation of Afghans from Sweden.

The Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in Kabul on Saturday between the Swedish Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ann Wilkens; the Deputy Minister for Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), Fazal Ahmad Azimi; and the UNHCR Representative in Afghanistan, Salvatore Lombardo. The agreement is valid until 31 December 2007.

"This MoU gives the three parties a framework to coordinate a phased and humane process of assisted returns based on the principles of voluntariness, dignity and safety," said Lombardo at the signing ceremony in MoRR. "It will also help to ensure proper planning for the sustainable reintegration of returnees."

Those who qualify include Afghan citizens who hold permanent residence permits in Sweden, Afghans with pending applications for asylum in Sweden, as well as rejected asylum cases. The return process of Afghans without protection concerns or compelling humanitarian needs will be phased, orderly and in a humane manner.

The Swedish government will offer eligible Afghans financial assistance up to their final destination. Those with Swedish residence permits who wish to return will receive a travel allowance as well as a cash grant for reintegration. The cash amount is a maximum of 10,000 Swedish Crowns (SEK), approximately US$1,430, for each adult and half the amount for each child under 18 years of age. The maximum allowance for each family is 40,000 SEK, or US$5,720.

Eligible Afghans whose applications for residence permits have been rejected and who opt for voluntary repatriation, can apply for a special allowance starting 1 August 2007. The allowance amounts to 20,000 SEK per adult and half the amount for each child, with a ceiling of 50,000 SEK (US$7,150) per family.

The UN refugee agency will work with the Swedish authorities to sensitise eligible Afghans in Sweden about their options, offering objective information and counselling to help them make informed decisions about voluntary return. The Afghan authorities have agreed to provide appropriate reception facilities for returnees, particularly to the vulnerable ones, before they continue the journey to their final destination in Afghanistan.

There are 6,904 Afghans in Sweden, including 5,810 recognised refugees and 594 asylum seekers who arrived recently and 500 whose cases have been rejected. 13 have returned including 7 deported since 2005.

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the UN refugee agency has assisted the return of 4 million Afghans from all over the world. The majority have repatriated from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

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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

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Pakistan: Returning Home

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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.