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UNHCR's Afghanistan shelter programme tops 200,000 homes mark

News Stories, 14 December 2010

© UNHCR/R.Arnold
A refugee returnee in Mazar-e-Sharif builds a new home with assistance from UNHCR.

KABUL, Afghanistan, December 14 (UNHCR) UNHCR's shelter programme in Afghanistan reached a new milestone this week with the completion of the 200,000th home for a returnee family.

The programme, launched in 2002, has been an important element in the return and reintegration of some 4.5 million refugees over the past eight years. It has cost US$250 million but has benefitted some 1.4 million people or around a quarter of all returnees.

"UNHCR's housing programme addresses a fundamental need for refugee families as they return to their communities and restart their lives. With a secure place to live, families are better placed to meet the challenge of reintegration after long years of exile," said Ewen Macleod, UNHCR's representative in Afghanistan.

Despite insecurity, Afghans have continued returning every year from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, and in significant numbers. The biggest wave of returns was between 2002 and 2005, but this year has nonetheless seen return levels exceeding 112,000 people.

The prospect of a secure home is regularly cited by Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan as one of their primary requirements before making a decision to return. This year alone, UNHCR has helped more than 17,000 vulnerable returnee families with shelter assistance. Much of the actual work of construction is carried out by beneficiaries themselves.

The return of millions of Afghans has increased the estimated population of Afghanistan by some 20 per cent. Returnees have contributed importantly in many economic sectors, bringing skills, know-how and capital accumulated during their life in exile. But this huge population movement has also challenged the country's socio-economic absorption capacities, particularly on poor rural communities with limited resources.

For that reason, UNHCR's housing programme has focused on rural areas to which significant numbers of families have returned from both Iran and Pakistan. The bulk of the new houses are in the central region (55,614), the east (47,571) and the north and north-east (42,243).

UNHCR believes that improved security and continued social and economic development will be critical to future return and reintegration perspectives. At present, however, humanitarian conditions remain fragile.

As such, due to the continuing high incidence of poor, homeless families within the returnee population, UNHCR's housing programme will continue in 2011 at a similar level to previous years to support the sustainable reintegration of returning Afghan refugees.

By Mohammad Nader Farhad in Kabul, Afghanistan




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.

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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.

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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.

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