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High Commissioner in Afghanistan

Crisis in Afghanistan, 17 November 2008

UNHCR Kabul Press Release, 17 November 2008

Kabul, 17 November (UNHCR) High Commissioner António Guterres is travelling to Afghanistan for five days starting today to assess the progress and the continuing challenges in UNHCR's largest repatriation operation worldwide. He will also co-chair an international conference in Kabul to mobilise support for the return and reintegration of Afghan refugees.

In eastern Afghanistan, Mr. Guterres is scheduled to meet with returnees from Pakistan to better understand their needs and concerns. This year, 170,882 registered Afghans returned to the three provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. This accounts for 62% of the overall returns (over 277,000) to Afghanistan in 2008.

More than 30,000 recent returnees are living under tents in five makeshift settlements in the desert. They say they cannot return to their home areas due to a lack of land, shelter and security. They have received emergency supplies from the government, UNHCR and its partners, but will need a longer-term solution beyond this winter.

A possible solution lies in the government's land allocation scheme for landless returnees. There are currently 15 such sites countrywide, most of which are in the initial stages of development. In addition to land distribution, returnees on these sites are in need of basic facilities and services such as shelter, water, clinics, schools and job opportunities.

In western Afghanistan, the High Commissioner will visit several camps for internally displaced Afghans. Most of them fled anti-Pashtun reprisals in the north and north-west after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. More recently, some have been displaced by severe drought in provinces like Badghis.

In Kabul on Wednesday (Nov. 19), Mr. Guterres will co-chair with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta an International Conference on Return and Reintegration of Afghan Refugees. The conference aims to mobilise support for sustainable return, reintegration and related development programmes under the five-year Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS: 2008-2013).

A costed sector strategy for Refugees, Returnees and IDPs under the ANDS will be launched to encourage the use of part of the over $20 billion pledged at the Paris Conference in June, towards supporting returnees and their reintegration in Afghanistan.

Conference participants will include representatives from relevant Afghan ministries, regional governments, the main donor countries and non-governmental organisations.

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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

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.
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.
Afghanistan: Mariam's StoryPlay video

Afghanistan: Mariam's Story

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.