Afghan returns in 2008 pass quarter million marks

Crisis in Afghanistan, 7 October 2008

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 7 October 2008

Kabul, 7 October (UNHCR) Over a quarter million Afghans have returned home so far this year from Pakistan and Iran, many of them reportedly due to economic and security uncertainties faced in exile.

Since January this year, UNHCR has assisted a total of 251,880 registered Afghans to repatriate from neighbouring Pakistan (248,951) and Iran (2,929). Many said they returned to Afghanistan because they could not afford the high cost of living in exile amid the current food and fuel crisis. Others cited security uncertainties as a reason for leaving Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.

The majority of this year's returnees (63%) have gone to eastern Afghanistan while 13% percent have returned to the capital Kabul. Another 6% percent have returned to the central region, 13% percent to the north and 6% percent to the south and south-east.

Many of them have returned to their places of origin, but some are unable to go back to their villages as they have no land, shelter, job opportunities or security there. Among them are over 30,000 Afghans who have been living in five makeshift settlements in Nangarhar and Laghman provinces since they repatriated this summer with the closure of Jalozai refugee village in Pakistan's north-west.

The UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation operation from Pakistan to Afghanistan will be temporarily suspended at the end of October for the annual winter break. Assisted returns will resume in March 2009.

More than 5 million Afghans have returned home since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Among them, over 4.3 million have repatriated with UNHCR assistance, mostly from Pakistan, Iran and other countries. Afghanistan has been struggling to absorb these massive returns. Many returnees are facing challenges such as landlessness, a lack of shelter, water and basic services such as health care and education. Job opportunities are also scarce.

The UN refugee agency provides a cash grant averaging $100 per person upon their return to Afghanistan. We also offer shelter assistance to the most vulnerable returnees, and coordinate efforts to establish water and sanitation facilities and other basic infrastructure in areas of high return.

But these are just short-term measures to help returnees reintegrate. The medium-term solution is to incorporate their needs into the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), particularly national programmes in key sectors like health, education, water and sanitation and employment.

To address these issues, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Afghanistan and UNHCR will co-host an international conference in Kabul on return and reintegration on 19 November in Kabul. The conference seeks to reconcile the repatriation targets and time lines proposed by the neighbouring countries with the increasingly challenging operational environment in Afghanistan.

It will also be a forum to mobilise additional resources for a comprehensive, integrated approach and multi-year funding delivered through the framework of the ANDS.