Sweden, Afghanistan, UNHCR sign deal on voluntary return of Afghans

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 23 June 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR at the UNAMA press briefing in Kabul, attributable to UN refugee agency spokesman M. Nadir Farhad, UNHCR Public Information Section, Kabul, Afghanistan.

KABUL, 23 June 2007 - The governments of Afghanistan and Sweden, together with the UN refugee agency, today sign an agreement outlining the terms for the voluntary repatriation of Afghans from Sweden.

The Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in Kabul on Saturday between the Swedish Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ann Wilkens; the Deputy Minister for Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), Fazal Ahmad Azimi; and the UNHCR Representative in Afghanistan, Salvatore Lombardo. The agreement is valid until 31 December 2007.

"This MoU gives the three parties a framework to coordinate a phased and humane process of assisted returns based on the principles of voluntariness, dignity and safety," said Lombardo at the signing ceremony in MoRR. "It will also help to ensure proper planning for the sustainable reintegration of returnees."

Those who qualify include Afghan citizens who hold permanent residence permits in Sweden, Afghans with pending applications for asylum in Sweden, as well as rejected asylum cases. The return process of Afghans without protection concerns or compelling humanitarian needs will be phased, orderly and in a humane manner.

The Swedish government will offer eligible Afghans financial assistance up to their final destination. Those with Swedish residence permits who wish to return will receive a travel allowance as well as a cash grant for reintegration. The cash amount is a maximum of 10,000 Swedish Crowns (SEK), approximately US$1,430, for each adult and half the amount for each child under 18 years of age. The maximum allowance for each family is 40,000 SEK, or US$5,720.

Eligible Afghans whose applications for residence permits have been rejected and who opt for voluntary repatriation, can apply for a special allowance starting 1 August 2007. The allowance amounts to 20,000 SEK per adult and half the amount for each child, with a ceiling of 50,000 SEK (US$7,150) per family.

The UN refugee agency will work with the Swedish authorities to sensitise eligible Afghans in Sweden about their options, offering objective information and counselling to help them make informed decisions about voluntary return. The Afghan authorities have agreed to provide appropriate reception facilities for returnees, particularly to the vulnerable ones, before they continue the journey to their final destination in Afghanistan.

There are 6,904 Afghans in Sweden, including 5,810 recognised refugees and 594 asylum seekers who arrived recently and 500 whose cases have been rejected. 13 have returned including 7 deported since 2005.

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the UN refugee agency has assisted the return of 4 million Afghans from all over the world. The majority have repatriated from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.