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UNHCR helps hundreds of homeless returnees in arid wastes of northern Afghanistan

News Stories, 2 September 2009

© UNHCR/W.Shellemberg
The temporary camp is located in a remote and desolate area of northern Afghanistan.

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan, September 2 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has set up a special tented camp in a desolate and arid region of northern Afghanistan to accommodate hundreds of long-term Afghan refugees who have been returning to their homeland in recent weeks.

Some 650 refugees have repatriated from a camp in Iran over the past month and another 880 are expected to return by mid-September. Most are nomadic Kuchi people of Baloch ethnicity and many fled to Iran during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The returnees were transferred from Bardsir camp in south-east Iran's Kerman province to a temporary tented settlement set up by the UN refugee agency in the Sozma Qala district of northern Afghanistan's Sar-e-Pol province.

The returnees hailed from the area but their homes had either been destroyed or collapsed after years of neglect. The local authorities provided a strip of land to be used to shelter the returnees while UNHCR, its partners and local officials worked tirelessly under tough environmental, security and logistical conditions to set up the facility and bring in aid.

"Returning to this remote and desolate place, they [the refugees] are defying nature with their tireless determination to start anew," said Aurvasi Patel, head of UNHCR's office in Mazar-e-Sharif. "With winter fast approaching, reintegration of these families will be a major challenge."

"It has been a real challenge for us to erect a transit camp and provide basic [water, education and health] services in such a desolate area," said Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR's interim deputy representative in Afghanistan, adding that the operation had been a real team effort.

Other partners involved included the World Health Organization, the UN Children' Fund, the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Programme (WFP). The Italian government, meanwhile, funded an airlift of aid for the camp, including winter tents, kitchen sets and portable warehouses, which arrived in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Sunday.

© UNHCR/W.Shellemberg
A returnee tends to his moped, which could be very useful in this isolated region.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is examining the longer term issues and challenges for the returning population, including housing, water and livelihoods needs. Under a cooperation agreement with the refugee agency, WFP will provide the returnees with food and income-generation opportunities through food for work projects.

"The settlement is a temporary solution to allow people to have a shelter while they are rebuilding their homes in nearby villages," UNHCR's Morelli explained. Many homes were destroyed by conflict, while others have suffered from years of neglect.

UNHCR is reviewing its country programme in light of the evolving situation in Afghanistan, which is witnessing an increasing trend of displacement. This includes returnees unable to return to their place of origin and in need of an emergency response.




UNHCR country pages


One of the first things that people need after being forced to flee their homes, whether they be refugees or internally displaced, is some kind of a roof over their head.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

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

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