10,000 Returns in First Month of Repatriation from Pakistan

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.