UNHCR helps more than 250,000 Afghans return home since January

News Stories, 7 October 2008

© UNHCR/R.Arnold
Voluntary Return: Some two-thirds of the Afghans returning home in 2007 returned to the eastern provinces, where UNHCR and WFP plan to focus new livelihood projects.

KABUL, Afghanistan, October 7 (UNHCR) More than 250,000 Afghans have returned home with UNHCR help so far this year from Pakistan and Iran, many of them reportedly due to economic and security uncertainties faced in exile.

Since January, the UN refugee agency has assisted a total of 251,880 registered Afghans to repatriate from neighbouring Pakistan (248,951) and Iran (2,929). Many said they returned to Afghanistan because they could not afford the high cost of living in exile amid the current food and fuel crisis. Others cited security uncertainties as a reason for leaving Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

The majority of this year's returnees (63 percent) have gone to eastern Afghanistan, while 13 percent have returned to the capital, Kabul. Another 6 percent have returned to the central region, 13 percent to the north and 6 percent to the south and south-east.

Many of them have returned to their places of origin, but some are unable to go back to their villages as they have no land, shelter, job opportunities or security there. These include more than 30,000 Afghans who have been living in five makeshift settlements in Nangarhar and Laghman provinces since they repatriated this summer with the closure of Jalozai refugee village in Pakistan's north-west.

The UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation operation from Pakistan to Afghanistan will be temporarily suspended at the end of October for the annual winter break. Assisted returns will resume in March 2009.

Ewen Macleod, UNHCR acting representative in Afghanistan, stressed the voluntary nature of UNHCR's repatriation programme.

"Afghanistan's capacity to absorb additional returns sustainably has limitations. There are substantial migration flows out of Afghanistan. This is one of the key factors behind UNHCR's position that repatriation must remain voluntary and gradual in order to ensure that it is a durable solution," he said.

More than 5 million Afghans have returned home since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Some 4.3 million of them went back with UNHCR assistance, mostly from Pakistan and Iran. Afghanistan has been struggling to absorb these massive returns.

Many returnees are facing reintegration difficulties, including lack of land, shelter, water and basic services such as health care and education. Job opportunities are also scarce.

UNHCR provides a cash grant averaging US$100 per person upon their return to Afghanistan. The agency also offers shelter assistance to the most vulnerable returnees, and coordinates efforts to establish water and sanitation facilities and other basic infrastructure in areas of high return.

But these are just short-term measures to help returnees reintegrate. The medium-term solution is to incorporate their needs into the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, particularly national programmes in key sectors like health, education, water and sanitation and employment.

To address these issues, Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNHCR will co-host an international conference in Kabul on return and reintegration on November 19 in Kabul.

The conference seeks to reconcile the repatriation targets and time lines proposed by the neighbouring countries with the increasingly challenging operational environment in Afghanistan. It will also be a forum to mobilize additional resources for a comprehensive, integrated approach and multi-year funding delivered through the framework of the National Development Strategy.

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Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

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

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Helping the HostsPlay video

Pakistan: Helping the Hosts

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.