Afghanistan at the crossroads: Kabul conference pledges support for sustainable return

News Stories, 19 November 2008

© UNHCR/B.Baloch
The international conference on return and reintegration of Afghan refugees was held at the Afghan Foreign Ministry in Kabul.

KABUL, Afghanistan, November 19 (UNHCR) The Afghan government and the UN refugee agency today pledged to strengthen efforts for returnees and displaced people within the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.

"The story of Afghanistan's return process marks one of the largest and most successful voluntary repatriation programmes in recent decades," said Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta at the opening of the International Conference on Return and Reintegration of Afghan Refugees on Wednesday in Kabul.

"Return, alone, does not mean success. It must be followed by successful reintegration, enabled by conditions conducive for the social and economic wellbeing of refugees," he added. "Greater efforts are needed to ensure returnees with basic services, such as access to land, water, shelter, general education, health care and electricity. In addition, the importance of facilitating job opportunities so that returnees become self-sufficient cannot be overstated."

More than 5 million Afghan refugees 20 percent of Afghanistan's population have returned home since 2002. The large majority have gone back to their areas of origin, but recent returnees are facing more difficulties as the country's absorption capacity reaches its current limits.

Some including 30,000 returnees now living under tents in the eastern region are unable to return to their villages due to insecurity, a lack of land, shelter, basic services or job opportunities. These challenges have been compounded by a food crisis and severe drought, forcing thousands of desperate families to leave their homes for other districts, even for neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.

The conference co-chair, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, joined the Afghan government in thanking Iran and Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees in the last 30 years.

"We will continue to work closely with our counterparts in the three countries to ensure that return takes place in safety and dignity," he said. "The right to choose freely, in an informed manner, is the best and most practical guarantee of sustainable return. After all, transforming settled refugees in one country into displaced persons in their homeland is surely in no one's interest."

During the conference, the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation presented a costing paper on the Sector Strategy for Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the framework of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The costing paper is based on three possible scenarios over the period 2009-2013, with projected returns ranging from 400,000 to 1 million people depending on the situation in Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries.

It highlights the need to strengthen programmes to help returnees reintegrate over the next five years in the sectors of land, shelter, water, sanitation, education, health care and livelihoods, with total costs of more than US$509 million.

"The Sector Strategy on Refugees, Returnees and IDPs remains the most effective blueprint for sustainable return. Its success will require the sustained support of the international community," said Afghan Foreign Minister Spanta.

At the same time, he added, the government "will work to increase our absorption capacity and better plan to manage and assist sustainable reintegration. We have also prioritized improving capacity in relevant ministries dealing with repatriation, fostering greater inter-ministerial coordination and mobilizing additional resources."

High Commissioner Guterres said, "Ensuring sustainable refugee return and addressing irregular migration have at least one solution in common an improvement in the overall economic environment and in employment opportunities. Progress in these areas will surely encourage more Afghans to return and provide reasons for others not to leave the country."

Participants of the one-day conference included the Afghan ministers of refugees and repatriation, finance, economy, education, interior, agriculture and public health.

Also in attendance were Iran's Deputy Interior Minister Abbas Mohtaj; Pakistan's Minister for States and Frontier Regions Najamuddin Khan; Saudi Arabia's Deputy Finance Minister Mohammad Abdul Rahman Al Muqiteb; and United States Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky.

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Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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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