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.

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