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Pakistan: Shalman refugee camp officially closed last weekend

Briefing notes

Pakistan: Shalman refugee camp officially closed last weekend

23 March 2004

Last weekend, we officially closed Shalman refugee camp in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province after the repatriation of the last residents on Sunday. In all, nearly 9,000 people were relocated - some back to Afghanistan and some to another camp in Pakistan. It marks the successful start to a programme that will see the number of camps shrink during the next two years. The last 148 persons in the camp repatriated on Sunday, bringing to more than 4,000 the number of refugees from Shalman who chose to go home to Afghanistan after more than two years in the dry valley near the Khyber Pass. Another 4,800 of the camp's refugees opted for relocation to an existing refugee camp in a less barren area of the rugged Pakistani border region near Afghanistan. The camp consolidation operation, which began on 7 March, went smoothly and finished two days ahead of schedule. The last group of refugees to relocate to Pakistan's Kotkai Camp - 433 individuals - moved from Shalman in a UNHCR convoy on Friday.

Shalman was chosen as the first camp in the consolidation programme because of its falling population - it could have accommodated about 26,000 people - and a harsh environment where providing assistance was both difficult and expensive. All water had to be brought by UNHCR tanker trucks. Other camps in the group of 15 that were established to shelter Afghans fleeing the fighting in their country in late 2001 will also be closed to improve efficiency in providing services - both those in North West Frontier Province like Shalman and in Balochistan Province. UNHCR is discussing the details of closures in both border provinces with government officials and expects more camp consolidation in the next few months.

The repatriating refugees from Shalman went through the same procedures as other Afghans asking UNHCR assistance to return home.

Some 1.9 million Afghans left Pakistan in 2002 and 2003. This year, some 400,000 Afghans are expected to return, with more than 10,000 already going back since the start of this year's return programme on 3 March. Returns of Afghans from neighbouring Iran already number some 33,500 this year.

In another development, we are pleased to announce that the Japanese government has donated US $6.4 million to UNHCR's work in Afghanistan - the scene of the largest repatriation movement in recent years. Our overall needs for Afghanistan in 2004 amount to more than $122 million. The Japanese contribution brings to $29. 7 million the amount we have received so far for Afghanistan for 2004.