Number of voluntary returns to Afghanistan this year tops 100,000

News Stories, 27 August 2010

© UNHCR/R.Ali
Packed up and Ready to Roll: An Afghan familiy heads off from a voluntary repatriation centre in Pakistan earlier this year.

KABUL, Afghanistan, August 27 (UNHCR) 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 per cent of the returnees come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north-west, with the rest from Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh provinces. A third head to eastern Afghanistan, a further third to the central region and the rest mainly to the north-east.

Separately, in Pakistan, UNHCR is in discussion with the authorities to rehabilitate damaged refugee villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. So far, in flood hit areas, UNHCR has been able to assist around 700,000 people, representing a third of those the agency plans to help.

To speed assistance, UNHCR has 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, including 700,000 from flood-affected parts of Sindh.

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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Afghan Refugees in Iran

At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

It will benefit refugee returnees to Afghanistan as well as 3 million Afghan refugees, including 1 million in Iran and 1.7 million in Pakistan.

Many of the refugees in Iran have been living there for more than three decades. This photo set captures the lives of some of these exiles, who wait in hope of a lasting solution to their situation.

Afghan Refugees in Iran

UNHCR helps tens of thousands in north-west Pakistan

In north-west Pakistan, UNHCR is working with the government and other UN agencies to assist tens of thousands of people who have left their homes due to a security operation against insurgent groups. Since the military push began in January, more than one hundred thousand residents of the Khyber Agency, which is in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan, have fled the conflict zone. Since mid-March there has been a surge of people arriving at the Jalozai camp, near the city of Peshawar. At Jalozai, Khyber residents are registered and provided with humanitarian supplies and food aid. Though most opt to stay with friends and relatives in nearby towns and cities, those without resources are provided with a tent in a newly-created settlement in Jalozai.

UNHCR helps tens of thousands in north-west Pakistan

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Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Helping the HostsPlay video

Pakistan: Helping the Hosts

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.