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10,000 Returns in First Month of Repatriation from Pakistan

Crisis in Afghanistan, 31 March 2008

UNHCR Kabul Briefing Note, 31 March 2008

Questions are attributable to Mohammad Nadir Farhad, UNHCR Public Information Section, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Kabul, March 31 (UNHCR) Approximately 10,000 Afghan refugees repatriated from Pakistan under the UN Refugee Agency's first month of assisted voluntary repatriation, a significant decrease compared to the same period last year when nearly 40,000 non-registered Afghans returned. The high number of last year's return was mainly attributed to a six-week grace period granted to unregistered Afghans who opted to be assisted home from March to mid-April that year.

This year's refugee returns figure stands almost the same as 2006 when approximately 9,000 Afghans returned during the month of March. At five Encashment centres inside the country, returning Afghans receive return assistance averaging $100 per person depending on their destination. They are mostly heading to the eastern provinces, particularly Nangarhar.

The number of refugee return has seen a significant decrease since 2005 which is mainly attributed to the fact that the vast majority of Afghan refugees have lived for more than two decades in exile, Afghanistan's limited absorption capacity and socio-economic issues such as landlessness, homelessness and access to jobs and basic services.

Last year registration results reflected a very young Afghan population in Pakistan 55 percent are below 18 years of age while 74 percent are aged below 28. This suggests that many of them were born and raised in Pakistan after the influx started in 1979, and have never lived in Afghanistan.

Tripartite Commission Meeting

On Friday March 28, the 15th Tripartite Commission Meeting between the Governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was held in Dubai under the chairmanship of the UNHCR.

The three parties discussed a range of issues including the deterioration of security and its impact on the reintegration environment of returnees, challenges of voluntary return and Afghan refugees temporary stay in Pakistan.

The parties agreed to explore different approaches to the voluntary and sustainable return of Afghans from Pakistan amid rising insecurity in both countries.

The parties welcomed the decision by the Joint Coordination Monitoring Board (JCMB) to convene an International Conference in autumn this year and agreed to jointly mobilize international attention and advocate for additional support.

"The international conference will be an important step in galvanizing international support on return and reintegration" said Abdul Qadir Ahadi, Afghan Deputy Minister of Refugee and Repatriation.

The parities once again reaffirmed their commitments to safe, dignified, gradual and voluntary repatriation in accordance with the absorption capacity in Afghanistan.

Some 3 million registered Afghans remain in exile in the region today, including about 2 million in Pakistan and 910,000 in Iran. Many say they cannot return home due to a lack of security, shelter and livelihood opportunities.

UNHCR has repeatedly stressed that any return to Afghanistan must be voluntary and gradual to make sure that repatriation is a durable solution. The agency has also called for the international community to do more to help returnees settle back in their homeland.

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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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