Afghanistan: repatriation from Pakistan to resume
Next week we will resume assisting refugees who want to return from Pakistan to Afghanistan, restarting the distribution of repatriation assistance that was interrupted after the murder of a staff member in November.
The programme, which has assisted about 1.9 million Afghans to return home from Pakistan in the past two years, is expected to help about 400,000 more refugees to repatriate during 2004. More than 660,000 Afghans have returned from Iran since April 2002, an operation that has continued without interruption. Our return package for Afghan refugees includes a small travel grant, food and some non-food items for those refugees wishing to re-establish themselves in their homeland.
We suspended the facilitated return initiative from Pakistan after Bettina Goislard was killed by gunmen in the Afghan city of Ghazni in November, a shooting that had followed months of increasing violence against humanitarian workers in Afghanistan. The decision to resume repatriation came after UNHCR took additional security precautions for its staff and received assurances from the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There is significant interest in repatriation among refugees in Pakistan. Nearly half of those living in the Afghan refugee camp of Shalman have said they would like to return to Afghanistan when it is closed next month as part of a programme to consolidate camps with shrinking populations. The rest of the residents, 53 percent, told a survey they would prefer the option of relocating to another refugee camp in North West Frontier Province.
Shalman, now holding about 10,000 Afghan refugees, is closing because of a dwindling population and an isolated, waterless location near the Khyber Pass that has made provision of humanitarian assistance difficult and expensive.
UNHCR intends to continue the process of consolidating camps in Pakistan's border belt this year and next.