Voluntary returns to Afghanistan - over 60,000 this year

Briefing Notes, 28 October 2011

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 28 October 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The number of Afghan refugees returning home from Pakistan, Iran and other countries under UNHCR's voluntary return operation has exceeded 60,000 to date in 2011. 43,000 of these are from Pakistan and over 17,000 from Iran.

With Pakistan, the return figure is 59% lower than in the same period last year, when over 103,000 Afghans returned home. The lack of livelihood opportunities and shelter, as well as insecurity are the most-frequently cited reasons for not returning. Most Afghan refugees live in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces and originate from insecure areas of Afghanistan which have seen limited development.

Pakistan is currently home to 1.7 million Afghan refugees, many of whom who have lived in exile for more than quarter of a century. Half this population is people born outside Afghanistan and do not own property there.

The number of returns from Iran is double to that of last year when around 7,500 Afghans were assisted home. This increase appears to be due to economic pressures and the discontinuation of subsidies on basic goods and services by the Iranian Government.

In 2011, the main provinces of return in Afghanistan were Kabul (26%), Nangarhar (14%), Herat (8%), Kunduz (8%), Kandahar, Laghman, Balkh, Baghlan and Paktya (4 percent each).

Since March 2002, UNHCR and its government counterparts have assisted 4.6 million Afghans in repatriating, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. Most have returned to four main provinces: Kabul (26%); Nangarhar (20%), Kunduz (6%), and Baghlan (5%). Including those who have returned outside of programmes in which UNHCR is involved, 5.7 million Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan and Iran, representing nearly a quarter of Afghanistan's population.

Launched in 2002, UNHCR's voluntary return operation is now in its tenth year. Under this repatriation assistance programme, refugees coming back to Afghanistan receive an average of US$150 per person to cover transportation as well as the initial cost of settling back home.

Despite ongoing security problems in parts of the country and tremendous developments and economic needs, Afghan refugees are still returning in significant numbers. The Government of Afghanistan and its partners are working to ensure sustainable reintegration.

According to initial findings of a community-based snapshot survey launched recently by UNHCR and Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, around 40% of the returned Afghans have not yet fully reintegrated into their original communities.

Afghanistan's capacity to effectively absorb additional returns is limited. Some families who returned this year will need additional support to make it through the winter. Many others don't have land, shelter, schools and healthcare. These families need job opportunities to become self-sufficient.

Nearly three million registered Afghan refugees remain in exile in the region today, including the 1.7 million in Pakistan and one million in Iran. We are calling for international support to help returnees settle back in their homeland. UNHCR with the government of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran is presently developing a multi-year (2012-2014) solutions strategy for Afghan refugees. This strategy will be presented for endorsement by the international community at a stakeholders conference in early 2012.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kabul, Nader Farhad on mobile +93 700 27 92 31

  • In Islamabad, Duniya Aslam Khan on mobile +92 300 501 7939

  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 22 79 557 91 06





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

UNHCR resumes return operation for 43,000 Angolans in DR Congo

The UN refugee agency has resumed a voluntary repatriation programme for Angolan refugees living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Some 43,000 Angolans have said they want to go back home under a project that was suspended four years ago for various reasons. A first group of 252 Angolan civilians left the UNHCR transit centre in the western DRC town of Kimpese on November 4, 2011 They crossed the border a few hours later and were warmly welcomed by officials and locals in Mbanza Congo. In the first two weeks of the repatriation operation, more than 1,000 Angolan refugees returned home from the DRC provinces of Bas-Congo in the west and Katanga in the south. Out of some 113,000 Angolan refugees living in neighbouring countries, 80,000 are hosted by the DRC.

UNHCR resumes return operation for 43,000 Angolans in DR Congo

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

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