UNHCR chief ends Pakistan visit to review protracted Afghan situation

News Stories, 28 August 2008

© UNHCR/A.Shahzad
High Commissioner António Guterres (extreme left) discussing refugee issues with Pakistan Minister for States and Frontier Regions Najmuddin Khan (extreme right) in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 28 (UNHCR) UN refugee agency chief António Guterres today completed a three-day visit to Pakistan during which the government agreed to revise its Afghan repatriation strategy beyond 2009. Both parties also reached a strong consensus on projects to develop refugee-hosting areas in Pakistan.

After arriving in Islamabad on Tuesday, High Commissioner Guterres met with Pakistan's leaders, including Prime Minister Syed Yousef Raza Gilani and Minister of States and Frontier Regions Najmuddin Khan. Guterres also met with top officials in the interior and foreign Ministries.

"Pakistan is UNHCR's biggest partner, hosting the world's largest refugee population for so many years," said Guterres. "No other country has shown such generosity towards its neighbours, and it's important to mobilize more support amongst the international community for this great effort."

The High Commissioner stressed that the protracted Afghan situation is among his top priorities this year. "We are working on a comprehensive strategy that involves assisting the host communities in Pakistan, fully supporting voluntary repatriation and reintegration, while keeping in mind the challenges in Afghanistan," he said.

More than 3.4 million Afghans have been assisted home from Pakistan since 2002, leaving an estimated 1.8 million registered Afghans still living in Pakistan today.

Minister Khan noted that repatriation is the preferred solution for Afghan refugees, adhering to the principles of voluntarism and gradualism. "The government of Pakistan is in the process of reviewing the three-year repatriation strategy [originally due to end in December 2009] in accordance with the ground realities," he said. "The revised strategy has to be time-bound on a medium-term basis. Pakistan's concerns will also need to be addressed."

On the need for more reintegration assistance to sustain returns in Afghanistan, Guterres said that an International Conference on Return and Reintegration will be held in Kabul in mid-November. Co-organized by the Afghan government and UNHCR, the event seeks to galvanize support for the refugees, returnees and internally displaced people (IDPs) sector strategy under the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.

As an additional step to share Pakistan's burden of hosting refugees, the High Commissioner presented a pilot project proposal for the refugee-affected and hosting areas (RAHA) in Balochistan and North-West Frontier Province.

"The UN team in Pakistan is fully committed to the RAHA initiative and will appeal for resources to support it," said Guterres about the UN joint programme. "The projects are designed to benefit selected areas of Pakistan by rehabilitating and upgrading infrastructure and services in the sectors of water, sanitation, health care, primary education, environment and livelihood."

Before he left Pakistan on Thursday, the UNHCR chief also met with the UN country team and member countries of the Group of Eight and the European Union to mobilize support for the RAHA project proposal and the coming international conference in Kabul.

By Vivian Tan and Babar Baloch in Islamabad, Pakistan

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UNHCR country pages

Second Dialogue on Protection Challenges, December 2008

An informal discussion among stakeholders about protracted refugee situations.

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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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