220 Afghans return home from Pakistan

News Stories, 4 July 2001

ISLAMABAD The first group of Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan this year with UNHCR assistance left on Tuesday for Kandahar in south-western Afghanistan.

The 220 people in 41 families who had been living in Pakistan for 20 years departed from Pishin in Baluchistan province. They organized their own transport using funds from UNHCR, whose staff also negotiated the border crossing with Taliban authorities.

Inside Afghanistan, UNHCR staff in Kandahar will escort the returnees to their home areas. Each returning family is expected to receive 6,000 Pakistani rupees ($90) and a plastic tarpaulin, plus 150 kg of wheat flour provided by the World Food Programme.

UNHCR halted the returnee convoys from Pakistan last November when it ran out of funds. In recent months, Afghans in the south-western Pakistan city of Quetta have been protesting outside UNHCR's office and calling on the agency to restart repatriation.

Last year, more than 76,800 Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR help.

Pakistan and Iran each shelter some 2 million Afghan refugees. Even though more than 4 million Afghans have returned home since 1989, a constantly evolving conflict has led to new refugee flows. Afghans remain the world's largest refugee group.