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Pakistan camp closures

Crisis in Afghanistan, 29 June 2007

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 29 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, 29 June 2007 (UNHCR) With only a day to go before the June 30 planned closure of two Afghan refugee camps by the Government of Pakistan, UNHCR is calling for continued dialogue between the government and the refugees to ensure a peaceful approach to the process.

The decision to close four camps Katcha Gari and Jalozai in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, and Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle in Balochistan was taken last year during a tripartite meeting between UNHCR, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was reaffirmed this year, and deadlines were set for June 15 later extended to June 30 for Katcha Gari and Jungle Pir Alizai, and the end of August for the other two camps. The Government of Pakistan stated that the camps should be closed mainly for security reasons.

The two camps closing this weekend host more than 82,000 registered Afghans the majority of whom are women, children under 18 and the elderly, according to a 2007 registration report. The Afghans were given two options by the Pakistan government. Those wishing to return to Afghanistan can do so with UNHCR's assistance, while others unable to return can choose to relocate to an existing camp in Pakistan designated by the government.

In recent weeks, UNHCR has been closely monitoring the camp closure preparations. So far this year, more than 16,000 registered Afghans have repatriated from Katcha Gari camp and at least 600 from Jungle Pir Alizai camp. UNHCR notes the fact that the closure of Katcha Gari is now proceeding peacefully.

We have no access to Jungle Pir Alizai for security reasons, and hope there will not be a replay of clashes that took place in mid-May. Some of the camp residents refuse to vacate the premises, claiming they are Pakistanis, not Afghans. No families have approached UNHCR for relocation to date.

Some of the Afghans who have returned to Afghanistan from the two camps said they felt repatriation was the best option of the two alternatives offered to them. They also cited remote locations, lack of basic infrastructure, limited livelihood possibilities and the three-year duration of their permission to stay as reasons for not relocating.

UNHCR is aware of the complex challenges that the Government of Pakistan faces with regard to the camps. However, it is noteworthy that the majority of the Afghan population from Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle camps, mostly women and children, originate from provinces seriously affected by the ongoing conflict in the south of Afghanistan.

Approximately one-third of the population of Jalozai camp originates from provinces where security is tenuous at best. At the recent Tripartite Commission meeting in Dubai, UNHCR underlined its concerns over Afghanistan's deteriorating security situation and limited absorption capacity. The three parties discussed the implications of these factors on the sustainable repatriation of the remaining 2.15 million registered Afghans in Pakistan.

More than 3 million Afghans have been assisted home from Pakistan since UNHCR started facilitating voluntary returns in 2002, making it one of the largest repatriation operations in the world. This year 50,000 registered Afghans have voluntarily returned home from Pakistan, benefiting from the enhanced repatriation cash grant of US$100 average per person. An additional 200,000 unregistered Afghans also returned with the new assistance package.

We count on all parties to continue the camp consolidation process with full respect of voluntariness which has been a hallmark of this operation since 2002. Over 2.15 million were recently registered as Afghan citizens living temporarily in Pakistan, and given cards valid for three years. More than half of this population lives in urban areas. Some 84 percent said they had concerns about going home, mainly for reasons of security and access to land, shelter and livelihood opportunities.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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