High Commissioner in Afghanistan

Crisis in Afghanistan, 17 November 2008

UNHCR Kabul Press Release, 17 November 2008

Kabul, 17 November (UNHCR) High Commissioner António Guterres is travelling to Afghanistan for five days starting today to assess the progress and the continuing challenges in UNHCR's largest repatriation operation worldwide. He will also co-chair an international conference in Kabul to mobilise support for the return and reintegration of Afghan refugees.

In eastern Afghanistan, Mr. Guterres is scheduled to meet with returnees from Pakistan to better understand their needs and concerns. This year, 170,882 registered Afghans returned to the three provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. This accounts for 62% of the overall returns (over 277,000) to Afghanistan in 2008.

More than 30,000 recent returnees are living under tents in five makeshift settlements in the desert. They say they cannot return to their home areas due to a lack of land, shelter and security. They have received emergency supplies from the government, UNHCR and its partners, but will need a longer-term solution beyond this winter.

A possible solution lies in the government's land allocation scheme for landless returnees. There are currently 15 such sites countrywide, most of which are in the initial stages of development. In addition to land distribution, returnees on these sites are in need of basic facilities and services such as shelter, water, clinics, schools and job opportunities.

In western Afghanistan, the High Commissioner will visit several camps for internally displaced Afghans. Most of them fled anti-Pashtun reprisals in the north and north-west after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. More recently, some have been displaced by severe drought in provinces like Badghis.

In Kabul on Wednesday (Nov. 19), Mr. Guterres will co-chair with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta an International Conference on Return and Reintegration of Afghan Refugees. The conference aims to mobilise support for sustainable return, reintegration and related development programmes under the five-year Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS: 2008-2013).

A costed sector strategy for Refugees, Returnees and IDPs under the ANDS will be launched to encourage the use of part of the over $20 billion pledged at the Paris Conference in June, towards supporting returnees and their reintegration in Afghanistan.

Conference participants will include representatives from relevant Afghan ministries, regional governments, the main donor countries and non-governmental organisations.