• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Some 3,000 Afghan refugees to leave Islamabad slum for new home

News Stories, 8 December 2009

© UNHCR/A.Shahzad
One of the Afghan refugees talks to visitors by his tent at the new site in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, December 8 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has begun helping some 3,000 Afghan refugees move from a slum in the Pakistani capital to an undeveloped plot of land in a green belt on the edge of the city.

The relocation operation began last Saturday, when an initial group of 240 Afghan refugees were moved from their mud brick homes in southern Islamabad to a 472,000-square-feet plot of land about 10 minutes drive away.

The move, which is due to be completed by the end of this week, came after Islamabad's Capital Development Authority (CDA) responsible for city planning, maintenance and expansion agreed to move the Afghan refugees from their slum, which is slated for redevelopment as a residential area in a growing city.

UNHCR will initially provide winter tents and has been helping to instal basic services, including water and sanitation. The CDA will level the ground at the new site so that the Afghans can build houses with shelter materials provided by UNHCR. The refugees will not have title to their homes.

The CDA initially served an eviction notice on the Afghans, but agreed to find them land elsewhere after discussions with UNHCR. "The decision to provide an alternative location to the Afghan refugees shows that Pakistan . . . cares about them," said Mengesha Kebede, UNHCR's representative in Pakistan, who praised the host country for its generosity over the years to millions of refugees.

Many of the beneficiaries of the scheme are daily wage labourers, such as 29-year-old Gul Khan. Like others interviewed, he welcomed the move, noting that the refugees were worried when they originally received orders to vacate their mud houses in the slum, where he had lived since the age of 10.

"But the new decision to offer us a piece of land where we are being helped to build a new shelter is a welcome step," said Khan, who works in an Islamabad fruit market. "It is very difficult to sustain a living these days," he noted.

Ghulam Nabi and his large family also moved to the new site over the weekend. "Our place [in the slum] was very crowded; imagine 15 family members living in a single tent," he said, referring to the makeshift shelter of plastic sheets and old cloths that he moved out of. "It was terrible," he said.

Pakistan is home to some 1.7 million registered Afghans and slightly more than half of them live outside refugee camps, mostly in urban centres.

By Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Pakistan




UNHCR country pages

Urban Refugees

More than half the refugees UNHCR serves now live in urban areas

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

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

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

Croatia: Sunday Train ArrivalsPlay video

Croatia: Sunday Train Arrivals

On Sunday a train of 1800 refugees and migrants made their way north from the town of Tovarnik on Croatia's Serbian border. They disembarked at Cakovec just south of Slovenia. Most of the people are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi. Their route to Western Europe has been stalled due to the closing of Hungarian borders. Now the people have changed their path that takes through Slovenia. Croatia granted passage to over 10,000 refugees this weekend. Croatian authorities asked Slovenia to take 5000 refugees and migrants per day. Slovenia agreed to take half that number. More than a thousand of desperate people are being backed up as result, with more expected to arrive later Monday.
Afghanistan Needs Your SupportPlay video

Afghanistan Needs Your Support

Croatia; Destination UnknownPlay video

Croatia; Destination Unknown