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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.




UNHCR country pages

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

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

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Beyond the smiles of homecoming lie the harsh realities of return. With more than 5 million Afghans returning home since 2002, Afghanistan's absorption capacity is reaching saturation point.

Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

Despite the obstacles, their spirit is strong. Returning Afghans – young and old, women and men – seem determined to do their bit for nation building, one brick at a time.

Posted on 31 January 2008

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

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