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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

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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A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

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