Afghanistan: weekly returns over 100,000 again
For the third week in a row, we've seen 100,000 Afghans return home under the joint UNHCR-Afghanistan Interim Authority assisted repatriation programme that began on 1 March. The total number of assisted returnees now stands at more than 900,000, the vast majority of them coming back from Pakistan. More than 64,000 have returned so far from Iran and over 9,000 from the Central Asian states.
With the number of returnees from Pakistan having surpassed our initial planning figure of 400,000, we have now tripled our estimate for Pakistan to 1.2 million this year. In addition, we believe that another 200,000 Afghans have repatriated spontaneously since the Taliban fell. Inside the country, more than 160,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been transported home, while many other IDPs have gone back on their own.
Despite the precarious conditions inside Afghanistan, the repatriation is already the largest and the fastest we've seen since the Iraqi Kurds returned home in 1991, also surpassing the massive 1999 return to Kosovo. The Afghans' enthusiasm has exceeded expectations, but in light of the declining pace of donor contributions, we fear that the sustainability of the refugees' return could be in jeopardy. If fresh contributions do not arrive, we may have to make some hard choices, including possibly reducing or even cutting assistance to future returnees.