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Afghan returns in 2008 pass quarter million marks

Crisis in Afghanistan, 7 October 2008

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 7 October 2008

Kabul, 7 October (UNHCR) Over a quarter million Afghans have returned home so far this year from Pakistan and Iran, many of them reportedly due to economic and security uncertainties faced in exile.

Since January this year, UNHCR 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%) 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. Among them are over 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.

More than 5 million Afghans have returned home since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Among them, over 4.3 million have repatriated with UNHCR assistance, mostly from Pakistan, Iran and other countries. Afghanistan has been struggling to absorb these massive returns. Many returnees are facing challenges such as landlessness, a lack of shelter, water and basic services such as health care and education. Job opportunities are also scarce.

The UN refugee agency provides a cash grant averaging $100 per person upon their return to Afghanistan. We also offer shelter assistance to the most vulnerable returnees, and coordinate 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 (ANDS), particularly national programmes in key sectors like health, education, water and sanitation and employment.

To address these issues, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Afghanistan and UNHCR will co-host an international conference in Kabul on return and reintegration on 19 November 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 mobilise additional resources for a comprehensive, integrated approach and multi-year funding delivered through the framework of the ANDS.

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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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Mariam was a refugee in Iran for six years. The widow and mother returned in 2002 and has been internally displaced ever since. Her situation is very uncertain.