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Voluntary returns to Afghanistan exceed 100,000 this year

Briefing Notes, 27 August 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 August 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The number of people returning voluntarily to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran so far this year has exceeded 100,000, almost twice as many as last year. Some 95,000 of these are from Pakistan.

The Afghanistan voluntary repatriation programme remains UNHCR's largest worldwide, with some 4.5 million people having returned to Afghanistan since 2002. As the figures of the past few years show, the number of returns can vary significantly from year-to-year.

As part of its monitoring responsibilities UNHCR conducts interviews with returning Afghans to assess the reasons for returns. This year, the most oft-cited factors have been economic reasons, difficulties in Pakistan, and local improvements in security in some parts of Afghanistan.

Overall, almost 70 percent of the returnees come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with the rest from Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh. A third head to Eastern Afghanistan, a further third to the Central region, and the rest mainly to the northeast.

Separately, in Pakistan, UNHCR is in discussion with the authorities to rehabilitate damaged refugee villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. So far, in flood hit areas, we have been able to assist around 700,000 people, representing a third of those we're looking to help. To speed assistance, we've set up additional distribution points in the worst-affected areas of Shangla, Swat, Peshawar, Charsadda and Kohistan. We are also in the process of establishing additional hubs and identifying partners to expand our outreach to flood victims in need of help.

Further south, in Sindh, 2,000 families have so far received UNHCR non food item family kits. UNHCR tents have helped people in Sukkar, Shikarpur and Jacobabad.

According to government officials the number of displaced people in Balochistan has increased to 1.1 million people of whom 700,000 people are from flood-affected parts of Sindh.

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Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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

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

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