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Pakistan: Voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees reaches 300,000 mark

Briefing notes

Pakistan: Voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees reaches 300,000 mark

16 September 2003

The voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan this year will pass the 300,000 mark this week. At the close of registration on Sunday, 297,536 refugees had been processed through the validation centres and departed for Afghanistan. Each day, more than 1,000 individuals pass through the centres, which are open Sunday through Thursday. A total of 1,609 refugees were assisted on Thursday and 1,220 on Sunday. Refugees over the age of six years who request assistance to return must pass through an iris check, which can detect those who have previously been tested and received UNHCR aid to go home.

Although the totals are far smaller than the 1.5 million of last year, when refugees rushed to return to Afghanistan in the wake of the removal of the Taliban administration, the number still represents a huge movement of refugees. At the start of this year, UNHCR estimated there were 1.2 million refugees in camps in Pakistan. An unknown but substantial number of Afghans, not all of whom are refugees, live in Pakistani cities.

The returns today (Tuesday) will include 37 families, about 225 individuals, from Roghani camp, one of the "new" camps established on the border of Pakistan after the start of the U.S.-led war that unseated the Taliban. They are the first of 705 families from Roghani who have asked for UNHCR help to return to Afghanistan. All intend to settle in Spin Boldak, just across the border from the area of Pakistan where they were sheltered.

Roghani is one of three "new" camps that UNHCR intends to close next March under a consolidation plan. Residents will be given a choice of assisted repatriation or a transfer to another refugee camp inside Pakistan. Roghani's population at the end of July was 17,027.