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Over 270,000 returnees in 2008 as Pakistan season ends

Crisis in Afghanistan, 3 November 2008

UNHCR Kabul Briefing Note, 3 November 2008

The Afghan voluntary repatriation operation from Pakistan ended last Friday for the annual winter break, with over 273,000 Afghans returning home during the year. Assisted returns will resume after winter, in March 2009.

Between 1 March and 31 October 2008, a total of 273,000 Afghans in Pakistan opted to return home with UNHCR's enhanced repatriation package averaging $100 per person. Only 3,142 have returned from Iran so far this year.

This year's return figure (273,000) from Pakistan is the second lowest since UNHCR started assisting Afghan returns in 2002. However, it still represents the highest return figure for any UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme worldwide. More than 357,000 returned from Pakistan in 2007, over 133,000 in 2006, nearly 450,000 in 2005, over 383,000 in 2004, over 332,000 in 2003 and over 1.56 million in 2002.

Those factors that drove the huge returns to Afghanistan in the immediate post-Taliban years are now less influential. Security and socio-economic problems have increased. Pressures in Pakistan have also risen. Many 2008 returnees said they could not afford the high cost of living in Pakistan due to the current food and fuel crisis. Rents have also risen in cities like Peshawar. Others cited security uncertainties as a reason for leaving Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP). But perhaps most significant of all is that the large majority of the remaining Afghan population has been in Pakistan for more than two decades.

The majority of this year's returnees (61%) have gone to eastern Afghanistan while 12% percent have returned to the capital Kabul. Another 5% have returned to the central region, 14% to the north and 7% to the south and south-east.

Most have been able to return to their places of origin. Some have been unable to go back to their villages as they have no land, shelter, job opportunities or security there. Among this population are 30,000 Afghans who have been living in five makeshift settlements in Nangarhar and Laghman provinces since they repatriated this summer following the closure of Jalozai refugee village in Pakistan's NWFP.

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 and Iran.

International Conference on Return and Reintegration

On the 19th of November, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will host an International Conference on Return and Reintegration of Afghan refugees. The Kabul conference will be jointly chaired by the Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The aim of the conference is to address a range of issues linked to the sustainability of return and reintegration. Specifically, it seeks to secure support for the government's approach to the challenges posed by refugees, returnees and internally displaced people (IDPs) during the period 2008-2013 as spelled out in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS).

The decision to hold this conference was taken during the October 2007 meeting of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) in Kabul. It is hoped that the conference will focus on how to secure long term development funding for supporting reintegration as humanitarian assistance actors and funding have only limited impact on building greater absorption capacity.

While it is not a pledging conference, the Kabul conference will launch a costed Sector Strategy for Refugees, Returnees and IDPs as one of the seven pillars in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). It hopes to encourage earmarking of part of the $20 million pledged at the Paris Conference in June to the five-year sector strategy to support returnee and their reintegration.

The conference will also be a forum to mobilise support for return, reintegration and related development programmes and activities as outlined in the ANDS chapter on refugees, returnees and IDPs.

Participants, at the ministerial level, will include relevant Afghan ministers, main donor countries, regional government representatives, UN agencies as well as NGOs and the media.

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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.