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Some displaced people visit homes in north-west Pakistan, but no large-scale return yet

News Stories, 26 June 2009

© UNHCR/H.Caux
Displaced women and children rest in the dwelling of a host family in north-west Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 26 (UNHCR) Displaced people in north-west Pakistan have been visiting their areas of origin on a "go-and-see" basis, to harvest crops, check on livestock and generally assess the possibility of returning home.

There are local media reports of widespread returns of internally displaced people (IDP) to their areas of origin, but while UNHCR staff have seen people return home briefly they say there is no discernible large-scale movement out of the camps. UNHCR and other agencies are working with the government to develop a return framework to ensure it is voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable.

As part of this process, UNHCR this week conducted a rapid survey among 4,200 displaced families in Yar Hussain camp in the Swabi district of the North West Frontier Province. The families are primarily from Buner district. While the data is still being analyzed, initial findings suggest most people want to return home but are concerned about security conditions.

They cited improvements in security conditions and restored peace as preconditions to their return. Other reasons for people not wanting to return at this stage were destruction of houses and infrastructure such as electricity supply, and concerns about lack of education and food.

The survey also found that most families had not visited their place of origin since they were displaced. Those who had gone back said it was to harvest crops, secure cattle or check on homes. Some people had gone back to help bring additional family members, especially the elderly, who were initially left behind because they could not move quickly. But almost all people who had reported going back said they did so only once.

Meanwhile, an average of 1,800 people (or 300 families) per day continue to arrive at Jalozai camp, Nowshera district, which is being expanded as other camps in the North West Frontier Province are full. The new arrivals at Jalozai are a mix of people previously staying with host families and those referred on from camps which are full.

In all the organized camps, we are continuing to improve conditions, building shade structures over tents to relieve the heat and privacy walls around groups of tents. We are also improving infrastructure like lighting and fencing. Preparations are under way for the monsoon season expected in mid-July.

UNHCR is reinforcing drainage systems, especially in flat low-lying camps like Larama in Peshawar and Sheikh Shahzad in Mardan. Many families have started to protect their family tent by building up low protective brick walls or draining canals.

Outside of camps, the UN refugee agency has this week been distributing relief items through its local partner, Sarhad Rural Support Programme, to almost 25,000 people staying with host families or in schools in Charsadda, Nowshera and Mardan districts. Distribution of relief packages, including mats, plastic sheets, jerry cans and kitchen sets, is done through the humanitarian hubs run in conjunction with the World Food Programme.

By Ariane Rummery in Islamabad, Pakistan

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Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Beyond the smiles of homecoming lie the harsh realities of return. With more than 5 million Afghans returning home since 2002, Afghanistan's absorption capacity is reaching saturation point.

Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

Despite the obstacles, their spirit is strong. Returning Afghans – young and old, women and men – seem determined to do their bit for nation building, one brick at a time.

Posted on 31 January 2008

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

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